Global system will slash cyclone deaths -scientist

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GENEVA, Nov 21 (Reuters) A new global earth observation system being constructed will help reduce deaths in cyclones like one which just ravaged Bangladesh, a scientist at the heart of the programme said today.

Cyclone Sidr, which struck a week ago, killed around 3,500 people, but the casualties were far fewer than in 1991 when about 143,000 people died or in 1970 when the death toll was some 300,000 in similar disasters.

''The declining death rate has three main causes,'' Jose Achache, Director of the Geneva-based intergovernmental Group on Earth Observations (GEO) which is driving the creation of the new system, or GEOSS, told a news conference.

''The first has been a dramatic increase in preparedness reflected in the growing number and quality of emergency shelters and relief services (in Bangladesh).'' The second is the result of improved observations using a new generation of satellites and increasingly sophisticated modelling based on ocean temperatures and details of atmospheric circulation, he said.

Bringing these together it becomes possible to predict a storm's intensity three days in advance and also the time and the place it will hit land, Achache said.

The third factor in containing the casualty level in the Sidr disaster, which struck a vast area of southern Bangladesh on Thursday night, was the improvement in early warning systems.

These enable forecasts to be communicated quickly to the population at large, giving people time to prepare for departure to safer areas or shelters.

''The Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS) will help drive further improvements in, and integration of Earth observations instruments, models and early-warning systems,'' said Achache.

''The end result should be -- and must be -- a continuing downward trend in the death toll from cyclones.'' GEO is a voluntary partnership grouping 72 member governments as well as the European Commission and 46 other intergovernmental, international and regional organisations working on Earth observation.

At a conference to be joined by ministers in Cape Town from Nov.

28 to Nov. 30, they aim to give new impetus to the 2005-2015 GEOSS project which aims to centralise and coordinate data on what is happening on the Earth's surface.

GEO officials say another benefit of the system would be better prediction of epidemics of infectious illnesses and their spread -- like meningitis during periods of drought in areas of Africa prone to the disease.

REUTERS RSA KN2135

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