Former US president Bill Clinton on Monday pressed donors at a UN conference in Germany for more money to rebuild communities shattered by the South Asian tsunami and create warning systems against future sea swells.
Clinton said more money is needed to help those affected by the tsunami
"Recovery is going to take years. Fifty thousand people are still living in tents. I hope you will think of them," Clinton told delegates on the opening day of the UN's Third Conference on Early Warning.
Clinton, the UN special envoy for tsunami relief, warned wealthy nations that unless they helped to rebuild poor communities such as on the Indonesian island of Sumatra and on the Maldives in such a way that they are protected from future disasters, they would one day again have to pay for emergency relief.
"Rich countries will pay sooner or later. But we have the habit of ignoring the problems of our brothers and sisters until they are too great and painful to ignore."
Clinton said in the 15 months since killer waves struck the coastlines of 11 nations in the Indian Ocean, killing 217,000 people, some 100,000 homes and 400 schools had been built.
"But so much more needs to be done," he added, saying that the biggest challenge was to implement a tsunami warning system that will reach the communities at risk of being engulfed by waves. "There was no early warning system and now we are all living with the results," Clinton said.
Asian warning system due in July
The UN's top humanitarian official, Jan Egeland, said on Monday in Bonn that a tsunami warning system would be inaugurated in Asia by July but admitted that many communities would still not be plugged into it.
Clinton said rich countries would pay sooner or later
A UN source said Clinton and Egeland were meeting behind closed doors at the conference with representatives of the 28 countries in the Indian Ocean to push them to take steps that would ensure the warnings reach their people.
"From July the scientific part of the project will be implemented. We will have gauges throughout the Indian Ocean sending data out every 10 minutes," she said.
Though this meant that the mainland of every country in the region would be warned of an impending tsunami, most nations that were struck in December 2004 have not put in place communication systems and evacuation paths to help people to safety when the next one strikes.
"The rest of what is needed to get the information to the people is not in place. President Clinton's real aim here is to tell them to get on with it," the source, who asked not to be named, added.
Just a matter of time
In an opening address to the meeting, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said the question was not whether such an event would shake the world again, but when.
Steinmeier said it's merely a matter of time before another such disaster strikes
"The chain of natural disasters has hardly been interrupted since the Asian tsunami... Hurricane Katrina, then the Kashmir earthquake that buried 16,000 people in their homes. We cannot halt the forces of nature," he said.
Instead the international community needed to reduce the vulnerability of people, especially the poor, to weather disasters, with a first step being to warn them to move to safe ground. Steinmeier said the most important thing was not sophisticated technology or money, but finding simple ways of informing people and ensuring they heed the warnings that will save their lives. He said video footage shot during the tsunami showed a settlement leaving their homes and running for high ground, from where they saw their possessions being washing away by the tsunami.
"Afterwards the children told reporters that they had been taught by their grandparents to read the signs of a sea surge. It shows that warning systems can function without technology and great financial input," he said.
The conference runs until Wednesday and will see delegates vet more than 100 project proposals for warning systems around the world.