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Asian Nations Hail Disaster Prevention Efforts

Rescuers carry people acting as victims as they rappel down a high-rise building during the National Earthquake Drill at the Ortigas commercial center as part of a disaster preparedness effort in suburban Pasig City, east of Manila, Philippines, June 2010

Officials in charge of dealing with disasters in Asia have hailed progress in efforts to better prepare the region. At a meeting in Thailand, they said climate change is worsening natural disasters, however, and that more cooperation and aid for developing countries is needed.

Officials from fifteen Asian countries gathered Wednesday in Bangkok for a two-day meeting of the Asian Disaster Preparedness Center. The non-profit ADPC aims to make the region safer by reducing the risk of disasters in the region through cooperation and education.

Delegates attending the meeting applauded cooperative efforts to prevent and cope with disasters.

Risk management minimizes destruction

Nicholas Rosellini, deputy regional director for the United Nations Development Program for Asia and the Pacific, said decades of risk management and international cooperation in countries like Vietnam and Bangladesh had reduced the destruction there by natural disasters.

"Cyclone Sidr, which in 2007 affected nine million people in Bangladesh, resulted in 4,000 deaths. But, this is compared to the 140,000 that died in cyclone events in 1991 and more than a half million deaths in 1970," said Rosellini.

Delegates also noted the need for further cooperation in the Asia Pacific, considered the most disaster-prone region in the world.

Noeleen Heyzer, the executive secretary of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for the Asia Pacific, said Japan’s deadly earthquake and tsunami demonstrated no country has the capacity for disaster preparedness on their own.

Cooperation is key

"The damages and loss inflicted upon a wealthy and well-prepared country like Japan only focuses the need for constant planning and preparedness for disaster," Heyzer said. "With climate change, this threat of natural disaster will only worsen for Asia’s rapidly urbanizing areas and for the exposed island communities of the Pacific."

The Asia Pacific is seeing increasingly extreme weather events that some experts say could be due to climate change.

The region is every year hit with deadly tropical storms, drought, floods and mudslides.

Nadeem Ahmed, chairman of Pakistan’s national disaster management authority, said that during the last decade in Asia, the frequency and magnitude of disasters increased, and that climate change was making the situation worse.

"This is further compounded due to the fact that we have a huge population growth in some of our countries, unplanned urbanization, deforestation, poor land use management plans, inadequate enforcement of the building codes, and investment in high risk areas," said Ahmed.

Prevention efforts save lives, money

Ahmed said more support was needed for poorer countries, but donor nations needed to concentrate on disaster prevention rather than relief, which he said was less expensive.

For example, he said $40 million spent on flood protection in Pakistan could have reduced the $13 billion cost in losses and relief aid for recent floods by 90 percent.

Furthermore, Ahmed said that whereas in the past they stopped at addressing chemical and biological disasters, the nuclear plant crisis in Japan was what he called an "eye opener" and that it was now time for the region to discuss better preparing for the possibility of nuclear disasters.

Norway’s State Secretary Ingrid Fiskaa said while the disaster in Japan focused a lot of attention on mega-disasters, they must not forget the increasing number of disasters that are low to medium intensity.