An ocean of troubles

Safety and security for the countries in the Indian Ocean region not only from maritime piracy but also from natural hazards like tsunami and extreme weather conditions has become a global issue of concern.

The Indian Ocean plays a very crucial role in weather formation and gives real time information for mitigating impending hazards.

It not only has busy sea lanes of communications (SLOCs) carrying huge volumes of trade but also rich deposits of oil and other natural resources.

The nations in the region have inked mutual defence agreements and regional security agreements particularly for the ASEAN and South Asian area. Mechanism has been developed to resolve maritime disputes between countries in the region. Mitigation of natural hazards in the region has now become an area of shared concern.

Some 13 countries have formed the Regional Integrated Multi-Hazard Early Warning System (RIMES) for Africa and Asia for which a master plan has been drawn up for a period of five years entailing a funding of about $64 million.

RIMES has decided to collaborate with the Indian Ocean Commission and African Centre of Meteorological Application for Development [ACMAD] for generation and application of seasonal forecast in the region.

The First RIMES Donors’ Conference would soon be convened later this year to seek global donor agencies support towards strengthening early warning arrangements for most vulnerable and least developed RIMES member and collaborating states.

A sub-group of RIMES ministers would be constituted for evolving an appropriate financing mechanism with terms of reference.

India, the chair of the RIMES council, hosted the first RIMES ministerial conference on 21 June 2012 where 21 countries including member states and nine collaborating countries supported the RIMES master plan.

Maldives as chair of the presidential task force has played a key role for marshalling Maldives RIMES secretariat and also for transforming RIMES into an international and inter-governmental institution and by laying a solid foundation for its sustained growth.

The 13 RIMES member countries include Bangladesh, Cambodia, Comoros, India, Laos, Maldives, Mongolia, Mozambique, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Seychelles, Sri Lanka and Timor-Leste.

The RIMES also has a group of 18 collaborating countries like Afghanistan, Armenia, Bhutan, China, Indonesia, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Russia, Somalia, Tanzania, Thailand, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, and Yemen, some of which are in the process of acquiring full membership.

Some of members and collaborating members are non-littoral states concerned about getting real time information on impending natural disaster.

RIMES owes its existence to a proposal by the royal Thai government to the special ASEAN leaders’ meeting on 6 January 2005 and subsequently to the Phuket ministerial meeting on Tsunami Early Warning Arrangement in January 2005, to establish a tsunami early warning system in a multi-hazard framework for southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean.  For the last three years, RIMES has developed as an international and intergovernmental institution owned by the member countries, to operate and manage regional early warning arrangements through suitable financial mechanisms for sustaining its activities.

International agencies like the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) Trust Fund for Tsunami, Disasters and Climate Preparedness, established with a contribution of $10 million from Thailand and $2.5 million from Sweden in 2006, supported the establishment of the RIMES through the Asia Disaster Preparedness Centre. Additional support has been received from Bangladesh, Nepal, the Philippines and Turkey. Till date, the Fund has supported a total of six projects related to RIMES, totaling $6 million.

The Danish International Development Agency (DANIDA) has given funds for establishment of a high-performance computing facility at RIMES programme unit, Pathumthani, Thailand to support research and development efforts of member states to improve hydro-meteorological forecast products to provide improved early warning services.

The UK-based European Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) has signed an agreement with RIMES in respect of utilising forecast products for building multi-hazard early warning programmes for RIMES member states with improved lead times.

India has provided computing resources to offset the damage caused to RIMES’s High Performance Computing (HPC) facility in Thailand due to recent floods and to enable RIMES to continue to provide uninterrupted services to its member states. India has expressed its willingness to exchange forecast products from its national institutions like the Noida-based National Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasting (NCMRWF), Hyderabad-based Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services (INCOIS) and India Meteorological Department (IMD) and to expand the scope of capacity development and value added early warning products through RIMES.  

India has decided to address priorities identified by RIMES member states and collaborating countries. It would implement funding proposals in Myanmar, Mongolia, Maldives, the Philippines, Nepal and Bhutan. Bangladesh has announced a $4 million contribution to RIMES from its Climate Resilience Fund for an innovative programme to upgrade early warning systems. Mongolia has taken steps to extend RIMES to east and central Asia by establishing a secretariat. Mozambique has taken initiative to establish collaborative linkage between RIMES and Meteorological Association of Southern Africa (MASA). Seychelles has decided to host the India-Africa Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasting.

Thus a humble beginning has been made by both littoral and non-littoral states in the region by pooling in their resources to set up a mechanism for getting information on impending natural disaster which would help in its mitigation and subsequent management.

By Ashok B Sharma, courtesy IPA.
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