It was most timely that Razik Zarook ,Chairman ,Bank of Ceylon ,Former Chairman NARA and co- Chair of Our Nations and the Sea (ONS) in his address at the World Ocean Day on June 7 (2013) at the BMICH highlighted the activities of the Ministry of Earth Sciences of India (MoESI) at this august assembly chaired by Mohan Peiris P.C. Chief Justice of the Democratic Socialist Republic Sri Lanka and a number of Judges of the Supreme Court, eminent lawyers from the AG’s Department Ministry of External Affairs and the private sector , and leading scientists , administrators and important personalities concerned with the theme ‘Together We Have the Power to Protect the Ocean”.
This event was a great success due to the leadership of Dr. Hiran Jayewardene Secretary General of IOMAC and Former Ambassador to the Law of the Sea who took this opportunity to launch the National Oceanology Center (NOC) to be located at Trinocomalee with the mission and vision of an effective integrated multidisciplinary holistic and overarching modality similar to MoESI of India.
We have been experiencing incessant severe weather conditions in Sri Lanka for a number of days and weeks and this prompted me to write this article giving due recognition to the foresight of Zarook for taking the lead when he drilled into the audience the need of the hour is to establish a similar entity like the MoESI in Sri Lanka .To this end, the launch of the NOC will be a meaningful and a valuable pre requisite initially.
The MOESI was established in the year 2005 by bringing all the agencies of meteorological and ocean development activities under one entity and the main objective of this endeavour is to address holistically various aspects related to earth system processes for evolving forecast of weather , climate and various natural hazards. The MoESI inter alia is primarily responsible for development of technology towards the exploration and exploitation of marine resources in a sustainable manner for the socio –economic benefits of the society by taking into account the global developments in the field of marine environment and to provide a wide range of meteorological services to the Indian public in general and to various sectors involved in marine affairs both in the public and private sectors.
The MoESI areas of competence covers a whole range of policies and programmes that contribute to areas of weather (general,) weather advisories specific to agriculture, aviation, shipping, sports etc, monsoons ,disasters(cyclone, earthquake, tsunami, sea level rise) living and non living resources(fishery advisory, poly metallic nodules gas hydrates ,fresh water etc.) coastal and marine eco- systems and climate change. One of the primary functions is to develop and improve capacity of forecast, weather, and climate and hazard related phenomena for societal, economic and environmental benefit including addressing climate change science, and developing climate services etc. and a pre requisites to achieve these objectives is to defining and deploying satellite based air borne and in –situ atmospheric and lithosphere observing systems.
The institutions of atmospheric sciences at MoESI relevant to Sri Lanka are (a) Meteorology Department of India (IMD),National Center for Medium Range Weather Forecasting (NCMRWF)and Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM)and institutions under the Department of Ocean Development (DOD)namely National Cerner for Antarctic and Ocean Research(NCAOR),National Institute of Ocean Technology (NIOT), Indian Center for Ocean Information Services (INCOIS) Center for Marine Living Resources (CMLRE)and Integrated Coastal and Marine Area Management(ICMAM).These institutions are under Earth System Science Organization (ESO) managed by the ESO Council.
The overarching vision of the ESO is to excel in knowledge and technology enterprise for earth system science focused towards socio –economic benefits of Indian sub continent and the Indian Ocean region .To this end the MoESI leadership in Earth System Studies are:
Provide the nation with best possible services in forecasting the monsoons and other weather /climate parameters, ocean state including early warnings to natural disasters like storm surges. Earthquakes tsunami and other phenomena through effective and integrated programmes.
Provide scientific and technical support for both academic and applied research in Earth System sciences as a whole comprising the atmosphere, hydrosphere, cryosphere and the geosphere with particular reference with to the Indian sub-continent and surrounding oceans as well as the Polar Regions.
Support science and technology development for exploration and exploitation of ocean resources (living and non living) ensuring their sustainable utilization
The goals of the MoESI are being pursued through its Centers namely autonomous bodies and subordinate offices.
Situation in Sri Lanka
The main institutions involved in Sri Lanka on weather forecasting and natural disasters mainly tsunami, storm surges, early warning systems earthquakes tsunami and landslides and floods are (1) the Meteorology Department (2) The Disaster Management Center (3) Geological Survey and Mines Bureau(GSMB) (4) National Building Research Organization(NBRO) (5) National Aquatic Resources and Research Agency (NARA ) and (6) Irrigation Department .
It is interesting to note that these six entities have been established under six legislative enactments and fall within the purview of four Ministries namely Ministries of Disaster Management, Fisheries and Environment and Natural Resources and Irrigation and Water Resources Management.
Further the Central Environmental Agency CEA) and the Marine Protection and Prevention Authority (MPPA) involved in land , surface and ground water and ocean pollution established under two more legislative enactments come under the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources .
The important factor that the Government of Sri Lanka as a matter of great national interest and urgency is to evaluate whether there is an effective coordinating mechanism such as the MoESI between these independent, multidisciplinary and autonomous institutions, agencies and ministries and whether their short ,medium and long term policy initiatives based on their missions and related activities are effective to manage natural disasters and calamities.
I have noted in the past the Meteorology Department and the GSMB give different warnings on tsunami and earthquakes followed by warnings from Disaster Management Center, the designated agency issuing such warnings to coastal areas especially on possible tsunami landfalls and storm surges and sea level rise. The past warnings and caused panic and pandemonium among the coastal residents as well as fishermen, business community and small entrepreneurs resulting in even loss of lives and having an adverse impact on the economy. Adding to this the NBRO has no proper way of predicting landslides and other earth movements as there is no coordination with the Meteorology Department. Further the Meteorology Department has no effective mechanism to obtain information from the Irrigation Department on overflow of reservoirs, tanks and rivers causing widespread flooding.
I would strongly recommend to the President to appoint a committee of senior scientists in the various fields indicated above chaired by the Secretary to the President, Secretary Ministries of Finance and other line Ministries and evolve an effective modality for effective early warning systems to prevent loss of property and human lives due to natural disasters. It is also recommended to bring the institutions and agencies under one entity preferably a new Ministry in line with the MoES of India managed by an Earth System Science Organization (ESO) and Council under a long term plan.
The intention of this article is in no way critical of the present Ministries, Institutions and Agencies but to highlight the absence of a meaningful an effective mechanism to coordinate the designated activities enacted by law and policies of the Government.
In conclusion I also strongly recommend as a pre requisite to a integrated approach to study the earth system processes to provide funds for the National Oceanology Center which will work closely with the MoESI and the other local entities in the state and private sector. .To this end I further recommend that a formal request be made to the Government of India for bi lateral assistance to establish a Ministry for Earth Systems in close consultation with our respective local entities and the private sector.
References – Earth System Organization Ministry of Earth Sciences Draft Approach Paper for 12 th. Five Year Plan (2012 -2017) of the Government of India.
(The writer is a retired Economic Affairs Officer United Nations ESCAP and can be reached at email@example.com )