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Asian Leaders Call for Early Warning, Tighter Coordination for Future Disasters

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Kurt Achin

Asian leaders agree the region must put mechanisms in place now to deal with future disasters on the scale of last December's tsunami.

Former Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri says governments cannot afford to wait until future disasters happen before dealing with them.

"The anticipation to disasters and mitigation of their impacts must be substantively handled on a daily basis as a national affair," she said.

Nearly 300,000 people died or went missing - more than 120,000 of them in Indonesia - in last December's earthquake and tsunami in the Indian Ocean.

Ms. Megawati told leaders in Seoul Thursday governments must develop the human resources and logistical plans for emergencies.

Former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad says seismic measuring stations in Southeast Asia must relay information to each other and to regional governments, for possible emergency broadcasts.

He says each nation must begin educating its citizens about warning signs of tsunamis and other disasters.

"Tsunami is a Japanese word, and the Japanese know what a tsunami is…. But the people in Southeast Asia… really were incapable of recognizing the wave," he said.

Mr. Mahathir agreed with others at Thursday's conference of Asian leaders in Seoul that disasters occur too rarely for any one government to maintain total preparedness.

However, the secretary-general of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Ong Keng Yong, says the time is right for an international mechanism to reduce the damage from disasters.

"There is a historical opportunity for us to hit a very good regional agreement, to be all on the same level of preparedness and the same level of knowledge in dealing with disaster," he said.

Mr. Ong says resources for disaster warning and response already exist across the region, but says they need to be more tightly coordinated.

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