Tsunami warning system

Indonesia – Indonesia said Monday it plans to establish an early warning system for disasters with its neighbors, as its death toll from last week’s earthquake and tsunami jumped to over 100,000.

Indonesia, which suffered the most death and destruction in last week’s disaster, will host a conference later this week of nations hit and major aid donors that is likely to focus on how best to deliver relief efforts.

Participants, including U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and senior United Nations officials, may also discuss ways to establish an multi-country warning system.

Officials say an untold number of deaths could have been prevented if such a system – which exists in the Pacific Ocean – had been in place on Dec. 26, when a massive earthquake off Indonesia’s Sumatra island sent huge waves surging into coastlines of at least a dozen countries on the edge of the Indian Ocean. The death toll is expected to top 150,000 people.

‘Indonesia and other neighboring countries plan to set up an early warning to prevent natural disasters, including earthquake and tsunamis,’ President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono told reporters.

‘This would be a kind of pre-emptive measure.’

Yudhoyono didn’t specify which countries would be involved, how the impoverished nation planned to finance the system, or how it would work.

Thai Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai, speaking Monday in Phuket, said some of the millions of dollars in donations pouring into the affected countries should be spent on the system.

‘One of the most important things we would like to work on with the United States and several European countries … is the immediate installation of the early warning system and the monitoring system,’ Surakiart said.

Regional leaders were expected to endorse establishing a tsunami early warning system at Thursday’s conference, organized by the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations. But experts say making such a system work will be an expensive and complex task.

Already, security forces were beginning to mass in front of the Jakarta convention center that will host the conference. Police said 14,000 officers would provide security.

The center is attached to the Hilton hotel, part of an Indonesian chain of hotels which Australia warned late last year could be targeted by terror attacks over the Christmas period. Also Monday, Minister of Justice and Human Rights Hamid Awaluddin said the government has issued a policy aimed at human traffickers who might prey on children orphaned in the disaster.

‘Beginning today all Acehnese children up to 16 years old are banned from being brought abroad,’ Awaluddin told reporters after a Cabinet meeting.

‘This policy is aimed at anticipating the issue of child trafficking as well as illegal adoption of the orphans.’

Unconfirmed reports in Indonesia say dozens of children whose parents were killed have already been taken by unidentified people, some of them possibly child traffickers.

Indonesia’s Health Ministry raised the country’s confirmed death by 14,000, to just more than 94,000. Tens of thousands more are missing and presumed dead.

On a positive note, officials said they found an Indonesian fisherman on Sunday who had been trapped under his boat since the tsunami upturned it onto him a week earlier.

Tengku Sofyan, 24, was being treated for severe dehydration at a hospital in Banda Aceh.