NEW YORK, 6th November, 2016 (WAM) — In his message marking the first World Tsunami Awareness Day, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, stressed the importance of reducing current and future levels of risk, particularly through strengthening preparedness.

“Tsunamis may be rare but, like any other natural hazard, if we fail to prepare and raise awareness, then we risk paying a heavy price,” said Mr. Ban in his message on the occasion .

“This should be a clear guiding principle for all those working in the public and private sectors who have to take decisions on major infrastructure projects in seismic zones and near exposed coastlines,” he added.

World Tsunami Awareness Day, marked on 5th November, commemorates the actions of a Japanese village leader, who on that day in 1854, recognised the signs of an approaching tsunami and set fire to his rice sheaves, an improvised but remarkably effective early warning system, saving the lives of the many villagers who saw the smoke and ran uphill to help put out the flames.

In the years since, early warning systems have grown more sophisticated, particularly since the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, which claimed nearly 226,000 lives and caused great devastation in many countries of South and South-East Asia. The waves reached as far as South Africa and Yemen.

Highlighting the scale of destruction and human suffering caused by tsunamis, the UN chief noted that since 1996, more than 250,000 people have died in 21 countries affected by 30 tsunamis.

“Tsunamis also pose a significant threat to major infrastructure either already built or planned for coastal areas,” he added, recalling the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami which killed many people, left thousands more homeless, and triggered a meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear power plant.