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Former President Clinton Calls Tsunami Warning System a Priority


Former U.S. President Bill Clinton says the tsunami that devastated areas along the Indian Ocean at the end of December has shown clearly that it is time to move forward quickly on a global risk agenda.

In his capacity as the U.N. Special Envoy for Tsunami Recovery, Mr. Clinton says the international community must focus its efforts on improving policies to limit human casualties when disasters occur. The former U.S. leader says much of the physical damage caused by the tsunami was unavoidable, but he says the human toll would have been lower if an early warning system and other prevention strategies had been in place.

In comments to a U.N. session on relief assistance, Mr. Clinton said there are also sound economic reasons to set up coordinated early warning systems in the region as quickly as possible.

"I think I can say with complete confidence that we will never have tourism economies that were devastated in the Maldives, along the coast of Thailand, fully recover until not only each country has an early warning system but there is an integrated South Asian coordinated, early warning system that encompasses all these nations," he said. "I actually believe that because of all the visibility they acquired there is an enormous potential for increased tourism in Sri Lanka and Indonesia, for example, as a result of what has happened. None of it will happen unless we have an early warning system and it all works together."

Secretary General Kofi Annan appointed Mr. Clinton as special envoy to monitor the recovery process and devise better prevention strategies and emergency procedures.

Mr. Clinton describes the recovery effort as complex and frustrating, with housing remaining as the major issue. He says resources are sufficient but lack of coordination and policy disputes are hampering the efforts to develop shelter for people who are still living in tents.

Calling the United Nations the glue that makes international cooperation possible, Mr. Clinton says he intends to continue in the job for at least another two years.

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