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UN Body Calls for Cooperation to Reduce Risk from Asian Disasters


The United Nations is facilitating cooperation to lessen damage from disasters that plague the Asia Pacific region. The U.N. committee on disaster reduction is meeting for the first time in Bangkok, with delegates from 25 countries attending.

The U.N. committee opened three days of meetings Wednesday, aimed at strengthening cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region on disaster prevention.

Noeleen Heyzer is executive secretary of the U.N. Economic and Social Commission for the Asia Pacific.

She told some 180 delegates at the meeting that the time for cooperation is now.

"The Asia Pacific experiences 42 percent of the world's natural disasters, with a disproportionate 65 percent of its victims," Heyzer said. "A person living in our region is four times more likely to be affected by natural disasters than someone living in Africa and 25 times more likely than someone living in Europe or North America."

Heyzer says, in 2008, almost a quarter of a million people died in the region from natural disasters - 97 percent of global casualties.

Two major disasters made up the bulk of those deaths.

China's Sichuan earthquake in March killed an estimated 87,000 people, while Burma's Cyclone Nargis in May killed an estimated 140,000.

Burma's military authorities delayed acceptance of foreign aid for days, which critics say caused needless deaths and suffering.

The U.N. meeting in Bangkok is attempting to speed up both aid and information to those in danger from natural disasters to help reduce death tolls.

Heyzer says government spending on the global financial crisis can also help reduce risks.

"Current government stimulus packages associated with the financial crisis offer an incredible opportunity to redirect policy and promote a more inclusive, sustainable development," she said.

The three-day disaster reduction meeting will discuss early-warning systems and the best way to cooperatively handle disasters, when they strike.

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