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Australia Signs New Disaster Response Pact with US, Japan

Australia is to sign a new disaster response accord with Japan and the United States. The aim is to improve the response to earthquakes, cyclones and other major disasters in the region. From Sydney, Phil Mercer reports.

The Australian government says it is working towards a "coordinated and instantaneous" response to disasters in the Asia-Pacific region with two of its closest allies, the United States and Japan.

The disaster pact between Washington, Tokyo and Canberra was agreed to at a weekend meeting of foreign ministers in Kyoto, Japan.

Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith met his American and Japanese counterparts - Condoleezza Rice and Masahiko Komura - on the sidelines of meeting of the Group of Eight industrialized nations.

The three countries have called for greater military cooperation and joint emergency response exercises.

Smith says that the recent earthquake in China proved too great a challenge for the authorities in Beijing and that international responses to future disasters should be harmonized...

"We've seen in recent times the Chinese earthquake, the Burma cyclone, the tsunami. All of these disasters have been too great a scale for any one nation to deal with alone. So we've had a bit of, regrettably, life experience," he said. "Both the United States, Australia and Japan have all helped in those exercises. We think we can be much better prepared, much better coordinated than when the next disaster strikes. We'll be able to apply much better coordinated and instantaneous relief to whatever nation state is seriously, adversely affected."

Smith says the Asia-Pacific region had been hit by several disasters of "mammoth proportions" in recent times and that a better practical approach to dealing with such events was needed.

Australia has specific areas of disaster expertise, including emergency relief in urban areas and forensic medical assistance.

The Australians will host a meeting of disaster officials later this year, most likely in November, where the specific guidelines of the disaster accord will be discussed.