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February 26, 2020

‘Awareness among coastal communities vital as tsunami in Arabian Sea a real threat’


February 26, 2020

Experts have warned that unprecedented loss of life and property can happen in the coastal belt of Pakistan in case of tsunami in the Makran Subduction Zone in the Arabia Sea, which is hardly 40-50 kilometres from the shore, and called for including earthquake and tsunami preparedness activities in the curriculum so that vulnerable people and communities could take precautionary measures in case of a natural disaster.

They further warned that both the ports in Karachi could badly be affected and could remain non-functional for several days or even weeks in case of tsunami in the Arabian Sea, which could result in serious food and fuel crises in Pakistan, which was evident from the recent Keamari incident when three major petroleum companies halted supplies for two days, which resulted in a serious fuel crisis in the port city.

The experts called for preparing standard operating procedures (SOPs) in case of tsunami or an earthquake in the coastal belt of Pakistan and for conducting regular drills so as to properly implement these SOPs. They called for creating awareness among the coastal communities so that they could know what to know do in case of an impending disaster.

These views were expressed by the experts at the opening ceremony of an international workshop on “Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for Tsunami Early Warning”, organised jointly by the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO (UNESCO-IOC) and the UNDP Tsunami and Earthquake Preparedness project, in collaboration with the Pakistan Meteorological Department (PMD) in Karachi on Monday.

During the five-day workshop, experts from national and international disaster management authorities would discuss “Strengthening Tsunami and Earthquake Preparedness in the Coastal Areas of Pakistan”, a project which has been launched by the UNDP with the support of the Government of Japan.

Speaking at the opening ceremony, Director General Pakistan Meteorological Department (PMD) Dr Muhammad Riaz said that in case of an earthquake in the Markran Subduction Zone in the Arabian Sea, which is hardly 40-50 kilometres from the coastal belt of Balochistan, coastal communities would have only five to 10 minutes to respond as several meters high waves would lash at the coast. He called for creating awareness among the people in the coastal areas to timely and properly respond to the early warning signs of an impending disaster.

“The Pakistan Meteorological Department has prepared a Tsunami Early Warning System which has been functional since 2009, but there is a need to make people aware and educate on what to do in case of a tsunami warning as they would have very little time to respond in case tsunami generation,” he said and called for including tsunami preparedness and precautions in the curricula at the school levels in the coastal towns of Pakistan.

The vice chancellor of the NED University of Engineering and Technology (NED), Karachi, Prof Dr Sarosh Lodhi, said a tsunami in the Arabian Sea or the Indian Ocean could make Karachi’s both ports non-operational for several days or even weeks. He added that this could result in a serious food and fuel crisis in Pakistan, especially in Karachi.

“During the recent Keamari incident, three oil companies halted the supply of fuel from their storage facilities at Karachi port for two days and it created a panic-like situation in Karachi. In case of damage to both the city ports due to tsunami, there would be a serious food and fuel crisis and we should take prior steps and measures to preempt such a situation,” Dr Lodhi observed.

He called for preparedness for an onshore earthquake in the Balochistan province, saying geological conditions indicated that vast areas of Balochistan were at the risk of having earthquakes. He urged close coordination and collaboration between disaster management authorities to deal with any eventuality.

Organisers of the event said the overall objective of the project was to provide policy and operational support, at both the national and sub-national levels, through evidence-based research and analysis.

“The project also aims to enhance the resilience of coastal communities to coastal hazards in Sindh and Balochistan and expand their livelihood opportunities. It will especially be focused on some of the most vulnerable coastal communities of Karachi West, Malir and District Gwadar,” said Adeela Khalid, national project manager of the UNDP, adding that the project was being implemented with the coordination and technical support of the NDMA, Sindh and Balochistan PDMAs, through the Pakistan Meteorological Department (PMD), NED University of Engineering and Technology and Pakistan Red Crescent Society.

She maintained that the countries lying along the North-West Indian Ocean face the threat of tsunamis from the Makran Subduction Zone, which is not well-studied at present. Therefore, the workshop aims to discuss challenges and fill gaps in the existing early warning SOPs.

She said the five-day event would bring together national and international tsunami and earthquake hazard experts and risk reduction practitioners and experts would share findings from their respective countries and fields of work and engage in collaborative exercises on tsunami early warning procedures and related issues.

Muhammad Usman Manzoor, program officer, ECCU on behalf of the UNDP Pakistan, welcomed the participants and said, “Of the country’s 1,150 kilometres of coastline, more than 600 km lies within the Balochistan province, with the remainder in the Sindh province. The fast-growing cities along the coast are most vulnerable to tsunami due to their proximity to the subduction zone.”

Ardito M. Kodijat, head of the UNESCO-IOC Indian Ocean Tsunami Information Centre, said that the countries bordering the Indian Ocean were much safer than they were in 2004. “The objective of the UNESCAP project implemented by UNESCO-IOC in the region is to have better understanding of the Makran Subduction Zone and to enhance tsunami preparedness in the Makran Region to be able to respond to a near-field tsunami threat, by streamlining and integrating the national SOPs and early warning chains to a near field tsunami hazard,” Ardito said.