Press Release

United Nations

Department of Public Information - News Coverage and Accreditation Service - New York

IHA/632*
31 July 1997

UNITED NATIONS EFFORTS FACILITATE EARLY WARNING OF SEVERAL DESTRUCTIVE EARTHQUAKES IN CHINA DURING APRIL

NEW YORK, 31 July (Department for Policy Coordination and Sustainable Development) -- For the past two years, the United Nations has encouraged cutting-edge technology designed to strengthen the capacity of nations to protect their citizens against natural disasters. As a direct outcome of that encouragement, three scientists associated with the United Nations Global Programme for the Integration of Public Administration and the Science of Disasters successfully predicted, three days in advance, several destructive earthquakes in China's north-western province of Xinjiang. This successful early warning was reported in the international media by Science (Vol. 276, 25 April 1997), published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

On 3 April, Beijing scientists Huang Xiangning, Li Junzhi and Ren Zhen Qiu, three experts who have specialized in disaster prediction for over two decades, jointly submitted an "imminent earthquake" prediction report to China's State Seismological Bureau. They warned that a magnitude M7-7.5 earthquake located in the area of Jiashi County would happen on 7 April (with a 3-day margin of error). Alerted by this information, national and local scientists and public administrators joined efforts to warn and prepare the 300,000 residents of Xinjiang's Jiashi County for the forecasted disaster. On 6 April, two large earthquakes of magnitude M6.3 and M6.4 struck Jiashi County. Despite the collapse of more than 2,000 houses, no one died from the earthquakes and only 23 people were slightly injured.

Collaboration among the three scientists began with their first partially correct prediction of the magnitude M7.6 Sakhalin earthquake on 27 May 1995. The United Nations had facilitated the sharing of their scientific information with scientists in Japan. Impressed by the Sakhalin experience, the United Nations encouraged further multidisciplinary cooperation among Chinese experts in earthquake prediction and disaster mitigation. The facilitating role played by the United Nations in the Sakhalin and Jiashi earthquakes is reported on in the national newspaper Chinese Science News (9 May 1997).

In September 1995, while conducting field research with the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the State Science and Technology Commission, the United Nations discovered a 1976 early warning success for a magnitude M7.8 earthquake. Public officials of Qinglong County, China, combined scientific information with local observations and decided to issue a community early warning four days before the 1976 magnitude M7.8 Tangshan earthquake. While 240,000 people died in the surrounding regions, not one life was lost in Qinglong County except for one heart attack victim. The events of Qinglong County are documented in the United Nations publication, Guidelines on Capacity-Building for Disaster' Management (1996), and in Science (Vol. 273, 13 September 1996).

The experience of Qinglong County, reinforced by that of Jiashi County, has become a rallying point for the United Nations Global Programme linking public administration and the science of disasters. Funded through a United Nations trust fund, the Programme organized an international conference for priority setting in January. It is planning a technical workshop for establishing an earthquake-precursor-monitoring network through training and equipment provision. The Programme is also publishing a common-knowledge handbook on earthquakes to stimulate understanding and interest in earthquake disaster mitigation,

Those efforts illustrate the role of the United Nations in stimulating global dialogue on disaster forecasting and mitigation. Over the past two years, the United Nations has played an important role in advancing the science of earthquake prediction, enhanced information-sharing between scientists and public administrators and -- above all -- shown through its documentation of best practices that successful early warning for such sudden disasters as large earthquakes, though complex, is possible.

For further information, contact Jeanne-Marie Col, Interregional Adviser, United Nations Department for Development Support and Management Services (tel: 212/963-8377; fax: 212/963-2916; e-mail: col@un.org.). The Global Programme's web site on the Internet is located at http://www.globalwatch.org/ungp/