A lack of funding from currency devaluation prevented the installation of a new tsunami detection system in Indonesia before Friday's devastating earthquake, one of the researchers involved in the project told CNBC.
A 7.4 magnitude earthquakestruck Central Sulawesi province on Friday, unleashing six-meter high tsunami waves in the city of Palu and the neighboring town of Donggala. More than 832 people died, with the death toll expected to rise and many others believed to be affected by rubble and landslides.
Before the disaster, a team of U.S. and Indonesian institutions was working on a prototype that could provide officials with extra minutes of warning time than most tsunami detection programs. That could be vital in saving lives.
The program uses sensor nodes and cables to recognize changes underwater and transmits that information to the Indonesian Agency for Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics, or BMKG, said Louise Comfort, who is part of the initiative.
"This type of data is really important in determining tsunamis," said Comfort, a professor and director of the Center for Disaster Management at the University of Pittsburgh.
Early detection can be critical to dealing with natural disasters, especially for a country like Indonesia. Southeast Asia's largest economy sits on the Ring of Fire, a belt of sites around the Pacific Ocean where many earthquakes and volcanic eruptions occur.
In 2004, a 9.3 magnitude undersea earthquake triggered a massive tsunami off the coast of Sumatra that killed 220,000 people in countries around the Indian Ocean. A series of powerful earthquakes hit the Indonesian island of Lombok last month, killing hundreds.