The more people in the Caribbean know about tsunamis the better able they will be to respond in the event of a disaster to minimise its impact.
This was one of the messages delivered last week as officials from across the Caribbean and Latin America met in the Dominican Republic for a workshop to prepare a draft Tsunami Public Awareness Education (PAE) Strategy for the Caribbean.
Speaking during the workshop, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) representative Marlon Clarke, explained the main goal of the soon to be established Barbados-based Caribbean Tsunami Information Centre (CTIC) would be to improve all aspects of mitigation, including hazard assessment, warnings, preparedness and research.
"It should be noted that one of the objectives of the CTIC is to act as an information resource for the development, publication, and distribution of educational and preparedness materials on tsunamis and coastal hazards," he said.
Mr. Clarke explained that experience has shown that people can take action to protect themselves and minimise damage when they receive information that is both timely and accurate.
He explained that the UNDP’s Enhancing Resilience to Reduce Vulnerability in the Caribbean (ERC) project had already begun the process of adapting tsunami PAE materials originally developed by the Seismic Research Centre, CDEMA and the International Tsunami Information Centre.
"The Tsunami Rules flier and Understanding Tsunamis brochure are currently being adapted in English, Spanish and French," he said.
Mr. Clarke pointed out that the Caribbean was prone to multiple hazards such as hurricanes, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and extensive flooding. He noted that over the last 168 years, the region experienced 3, 500 deaths from tsunami hazards, and stressed that while the number was low, one death, was one too many.
"Making our populations more knowledgeable and aware of tsunamis is a critical component in mitigating the impact of tsunamis throughout the region," he noted.
He added that investment in disaster risk reduction was urgently needed, to ensure populations were knowledgeable, aware and proactive in protecting their lives, livelihoods and assets.
Chair of the Intergovernmental Coordination Group and other Coastal Hazards Warning Systems for the Caribbean and Adjacent Regions (ICG/CARIBE EWS), Dr. Christa von Hillebrandt-Andrade, also reiterated the need to inform Caribbean populations about the risks of tsunamis and how they should prepare for them.
"With the dramatic increase in populations, tourists and infrastructure along our shorelines today, millions of coastal residents, workers and visitors like us are vulnerable to tsunami. Our tsunamis public awareness and education efforts are, therefore, critical for people to become knowledgeable and prepare…In all cases, people need to know how to respond," she said.
The ICG/CARIBE EWS Chair pointed out that it was not until India’s tsunami of 2004, and the resulting devastation that greater emphasis was placed on the threat of tsunamis and other coastal hazards for the Caribbean.
She added that the just concluded meeting would also place significant focus on education, preparedness and readiness.