- The tsunami hitting Seychelles on 26 December was the first major disaster in the island nation since 1868. While only one life was lost, the tsunami caused large material damages and new disaster awareness in Seychelles. The islands state, which has now seen its debts frozen, will now develop an up-to-date disaster alert system.
According to the Seychellois government, the country is now working on the development of a national disaster warning system by which the authorities would advise residents on the possibility of a disaster striking. The principal secretary for Environment, Rolph Payet, said this on Tuesday during an interview.
The alert system "will entail thorough education of the public to understand how such a system works and probably use colour coding as in some countries to indicate severity of the potential danger and what specific evasive action people should take," the government explained.
Mr Payet said such a system would take an estimated two years to put in place and may be another five to ensure people understand it well. "We are developing such a system, which is not easy because it will require baseline data and information," he said.
The government representative added that the system in use in Mauritius is mainly for cyclones, which do not occur in Seychelles, but the island of Réunion has a more elaborate system that covers flooding. "We are in discussion with Réunion, which already has a warning system which progressively uses different colours to develop ours," he said.
Mr Payet said that Seychelles would also not want to rely merely on word of mouth, for example passed on by telephone from neighbouring countries because such a system could also raise false alarm. He recalled that even a few days after the 26 December tsunami, false warning followed saying that similar occurrences were imminent causing people to panic.
He noted Seychelles has not had any major disaster since 1868 with lesser ones occurring about seven years ago. Excessive rains in August 1997 caused heavy floods on the archipelago. A study by the UN's Disaster Assessment Coordination (UNDAC) later that year revealed that Seychelles had little experience in handling disasters, and had not developed any comprehensive disaster management structure, legislation or plan.
Seychelles President James Michel on Thursday last week had called improved disaster preparedness. "This unprecedented calamity in our region has taught us, in the most compelling terms, that there is an urgent need for an early warning system in the Indian Ocean region, similar to that which exists in the Pacific," President Michel said.
The Seychellois President further said there was a need for the a special disaster fund in Seychelles to help long-term recovery in view of the widespread damage to infrastructure, public utilities and private property. "Many people have lost their homes and livelihood in Seychelles," President Michel said.
According to the Seychellois government, the tsunami had caused damages worth more than US$ 30 million to the archipelago. "This may seem small compared to the damage inflicted to our neighbours, but it is nonetheless considerable for a small economy like ours," President Michel noted. He called for aid from the international community ti set up a relief fund.
Seychelles last week received the first substantial international aid needed for reconstruction by a freezing of the country's debts by the so-called Paris Club of creditor nations. "The suspension takes effect immediately," Paris Club President Jean-Pierre Jouyet told a news conference after talks in Paris on Wednesday. The Seychelles owes some five million dollars in debt payments this year.
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