BANGKOK — The United Nations estimates that countries in Asia account for some 80 percent of the world’s disaster events, such as typhoons, earthquakes and heat waves. As nations try to better plan for responding to and recovering from disasters, the United Nations has convened a gathering of some 40 countries in Bangkok to discuss how to ensure that human and economic losses are kept to a minimum.
Over 2,500 delegates from more than 40 countries are attending the four day conference on disaster risk reduction as governments and authorities look to further build on gains from the past decade in efforts to reduce the loss of life from catastrophic events.
Asia Pacific region vulnerable
Opening the conference, Thailand's deputy of the ruling military junta General Thanasak Patimaprakorn, said economic losses from disasters in the Asia Pacific are getting larger with the region now an increasing driver of global economic growth.
"Asia Pacific is a high risk region that suffered in the past 10 years from most natural disasters, more than 10 major disasters took place in this region causing invaluable damages to life and property. For Thailand, suffered two major disasters including the tsunami in 2004 and the  great flood," he said.
Thailand's 2011 flood claimed over 800 people's lives with economic costs in excess of $45 billion, hitting major industrial zones in central provinces, that affected global manufacturing chains in auto and electronics industries.
The current regional conference is part of a series of international agreements that followed the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami that claimed over 230,000 lives across 14 countries. In 2008 the devastating cyclone Nargis in Myanmar, also known as Burma, claimed more than 100,000 lives. In November last year communities in the Philippines were hit by typhoon Haiyan claiming 6,000 lives.
But other nations, such as India and Bangladesh, also prone to typhoons and cyclones, have made major gains in mitigating death tolls by way of early warning systems and improved local preparedness.
Margareta Wahlstrom, U.N.'s representative of the Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction, says progress has come in building local community resilience and effective awareness campaigns.
"We can say that fewer people lose their lives, we can say that in some countries economic losses are beginning to get under control, we also know that we have much better early warning systems, but we also know they need to become even better, we know that many countries are much better prepared for disaster response and we know that many countries effectively evacuate people to save lives in times of crisis."
Walhstrom cites mass evacuations in the Philippines ahead of Typhoon Haian last November, and in India ahead of Cyclone Phailin last October, as examples of the kind of steps that can save many lives.
Walhstrom also says better grass roots development such as improved health systems, education, and higher incomes have acted as "foundation blocks" enabling communities to withstand disasters.
This week’s meeting is aimed at developing a new set of recommendations on legislative reforms, decentralizing authority, creating more effective warning systems, and empowering women who are often the most vulnerable in disaster areas.
The final recommendations from the Asia Pacific Ministerial will then be under consideration at the Third U.N. World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai, Japan in March 2015.