By: Amar Guriro | Published: March 22, 2011
KARACHI – The Sindh Tsunami Early Warning Centre might be equipped with sophisticated gadgets, but those responsible for sending warnings are perhaps a tad tardy – certainly very tardy by disaster standards.
On Monday, a 5.7 magnitude earthquake jolted Islamabad, Peshawar, Swat, Nowshera, Khyber and Mohmand tribal regions as well as parts of Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa, Kashmir and upper Punjab.
The earthquake occurred at 2.49pm, but the Tsunami Early Warning Centre sent an alert some 33 minutes later. In an actual tsunami situation – wherein a tsunami follows an earthquake – each of these 33 minutes would have been critical for those in danger as their escape would have been significantly delayed.
Chief Meteorologist in Sindh, Mohammad Riaz, admitted that the alert was tardy but blamed cellular networks for such a delay. “There are around 40 cell numbers of different authorities and individuals who have to be notified in case of an earthquake anywhere in the world. The SMS alerts get late sometimes because of the cellular network that we use, otherwise there is no problem,” he argued.
The Pakistan Meteorological Department had established the Tsunami Early Warning Centre in 2008. Later on, in collaboration with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the centre was bolstered to tackle tsunami and other ocean-related disasters and increase the preparedness of the vulnerable in the coastal areas of Sindh and Balochistan.
The centre was also handed a sophisticated gadget to send text alerts of each earthquake, tsunami or any other natural disaster to the local governments of areas situated in the coastal belt of Sindh and Balochistan. Officials of the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) and the Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA), as well as media personnel were also to be notified in such situations, so that a synchronized response could be set in motion.
Since the past one year, however, the centre is sending delayed SMS alerts, thereby making its very purpose redundant.