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What lesson could be drawn from volcano ash crisis?

By Wu Liming (Xinhua.com.cn)
Updated: 2010-04-23 09:13
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The eruption of a small-scale volcano like the Eyjafjallajokull one could trigger a massive chaos. It is of course worthwhile to explore the lessons from the volcano ash crisis. 

Iceland's Eyjafjallajokull volcano erupted last Wednesday, spewing steam and billows of ash into the sky. The volcanic eruption is not, by any means, a large-scale one and has not caused casualties up to now.

However, the eruption has pulled Europe out of track.

Because of the ash spreading to the European continent, canceled flights to, from, and within Europe have affected millions of travelers worldwide and reportedly cost airliners some 200 million US dollars a day.

The eruption of a small-scale volcano like the Eyjafjallajokull one could trigger a massive chaos. It is of course worthwhile to explore the lessons from the volcano ash crisis.

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First and foremost, an early warning and forecasting system is vital to tackling the disaster resulting from the volcanic eruption.

It is commonly accepted that volcanic eruptions are unpredictable. But it is possible to monitor and forecast the movement and scale of volcano ash.

Scientists in Europe have well performed their duty in sending early warning of the volcano ash, thus avoiding potential aviation incident.

German news magazine Spiegel reported that Icelandic meteorologists informed their British colleagues at midday on Wednesday. The British meteorologists immediately put their supercomputer on the job, and 15 minutes later, they had their first forecast of how the dust cloud would probably spread.

"A warning was sent out to airlines at 2 p.m., long before the cloud reached the European continent," said the news magazine.

However, Europeans reacted slowly in rationally arrange train and road transportation systems to divert the people trapped at airports.

Statistics showed that by late Sunday, more than 63,000 flights had been canceled in 23 European countries, stifling the lifeblood of the continent's economy.

Because few planes are available for service, travelers can't continue their travel, machinery parts can't get to factories, food sellers can't transport their goods, and businesses are finding it increasingly difficult to maintain regular business activities.

As an old Chinese saying goes: "it is never too late to mend the sheepfold." The Icelandic volcano ash crisis has helped expand people's knowledge about volcanic eruptions, and various debates and assessments are conducted or to be conducted across the globe, Europe in particular.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso has decided to set up an ad-hoc group to assess the impact of the volcanic ash cloud on the air travel industry and the economy.

"The volcanic ash cloud has created an unprecedented situation," Barroso said in a statement, adding that it is important that all measures to be considered are coordinated at the European level.

The transport ministers from all 27 European Union states are planning a video conference to discuss counter measures, aiming to bar more negative impact on the European economy, which is still struggling out of the financial crisis.

However, the railway companies and road transporters are benefiting from the crisis. Major railway stations across West Europe were crowded with passengers and Eurostar tickets are fully booked even two days ahead of departure.

As the volcano ash spreads across borders, people are calling for more international and regional coordination and cooperation.

As a matter of fact, meteorologists, airline companies and governments across Europe have held timely and smooth exchanges of their information since the volcanic eruption.

In 2004, the Indian Ocean tsunami drove the international community to enhance the global early warning system for tsunami.

Later on, in the Haiti earthquake and the Chile earthquake earlier this year, such an early warning system has played a vital role in avoiding more deaths and casualties in the aftermath of the earthquakes.

Similarly, the Icelandic volcano ash crisis could press Europeans to realize the importance of more international and regional coordination and cooperation, and volcano ash monitoring and warning could become a regular practice in Europe in the future.