Friday, January 22, 2010

It is time to strenthen UNESCO's earthquake science program

In a conference in 2008, a scientist from the University of Texas forecast the likelihood of a major earthquake in Haiti. We see now that he was correct, and can only regret that there was not more done to prepare Haiti and its people for that event. Today there is a massive expression of American concern for the people of Haiti who have already suffered a huge death toll, one that is likely to increase from illnesses in the aftermath of the earthquake. The development of this poorest nation in the hemisphere has been set back for years, and it is clear already that there will be a period of years needed simply to reconstruct that which has been damaged.

There is no way to prevent earthquakes, but it is possible to build in such a way as to reduce the damage done by earthquakes and to prepare for relief to ameliorate the suffering that follows them. UNESCO's Geosciences program includes efforts to mitigate the risks of geohazards. Indeed it has created a project that is working specifically in the cities of Latin America.

In the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami, UNESCO moved to create a global tsunami warning system, based on a center in Hawaii. It is now time for the United States to encourage and help UNESCO to strengthen its efforts to reduce geohazard risks, especially in our own neighborhood, Latin America and the Caribbean.

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