news focus - natural disasters remain challenge to asia-pacific`s robust economic growth b - (d)

Jakarta, Feb 5 (ANTARA) - Apart from the slowdown of world`s economy due to crisis in the United States and some European countries, natural disasters is also among non-traditional challenges, faced by countries in Asia Pacific.

The rate of natural disasters hitting the region during the past 10 years is quite high.

Aaccording to United Nation of Environment Program (UNEP), 70 percent of natural disasters happens in Asia Pacific region.

In 2008 alone, the region accounted for more than half of the 220 major disasters that took place, which affected more than 55 million people and resulted in 7,000 deaths and US$15 billion in damages.

Tsunami and earthquake in Japan last 2011, hurricane Sandy in the Caribbean and United States in 2012, flood in Indonesia`s capital city Jakarta in early 2013, all poses threat to the robust economic development in the region. Therefore a comprehensive steps need to be done to tackle this problem.

Last 2009 Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders reaffirmed the importance of enhancing human security and reducing the threat of disruptions to business and trade in the Asia-Pacific region.

A separate working group to discuss future cooperation in tackling post-natural disasters situation is established last 2010.

Since then, various cooperation among APEC economies have been established especially in the form of capacity building and exchange of ideas between experts from the economies.

Indonesia as host of APEC this year proposes idea of implementing an easy traveling policy for disaster mitigation officers in the region.

The idea is disclosed during the Senior Official Meeting of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) held in Jakarta starting January 25 to February 7 in Jakarta.

"APEC has a mechanism called APEC Business Travel Card that allows business travelers to have a pre-cleared, facilitated short-term entry to participating member economies. We can adopt this mechanism and apply it on our effort to help member economy being impacted by natural disaster," Foreign Ministry`s Asia Pacific and African Affairs Director General Yuri Thamrin said.

He emphasized the need for an easy travel policy for disaster mitigation officers from APEC economies to impacted areas in the region to help accelerate rehabilitation process there.

"Accelerating rehabilitation process will help economic recovery of the impacted county or economy," he said.

Apart from easing off the travel of disaster mitigation officers, Indonesia also proposes to APEC member being hit by natural disaster to accelerate custom and immigration process for the flow of humanitarian aid to the impacted area.

Meanwhile Foreign Ministry`s Director for Asia-Pacific and African Intra-Regional Cooperation Arto Suryodipuro said the issuance of travel cards for disaster mitigation officers in APEC economies must not disturb sovereignty of the impacted country or economy.

Asked whether the proposal will be implemented during Indonesia`s chairmanship this year, Yuri said it may take longer time to be fully realized as further discussion with custom and immigration offices of 21 APEC economies is needed.

"Initially we have proposed to conduct a survey about the policy of custom and immigration offices in the member economies. We also propose the establishment of a website containing information on post-disaster situation in impacted area," he added.

Apart from cooperation within Asia Pacific region to tackle post-disaster situation, countries in Southeast Asia are also in joint effort to face the same challenge.

Last 2011 the ASEAN Coordinating Center for Humanitarian Assistance on Disaster Management (AHA Center) is established with Jakarta choosen as its secretariat office.

The AHA Center is established to provide cooperation and coordination among ASEAN member countries, the United Nations and other international organizations in promoting regional collaboration in responding to disasters.

The AHA Center aims to become a coordination and information center for disaster handling in ASEAN.

"We hope with the existence of the AHA Centre, the capacity and capability of disaster management in Indonesia and ASEAN will be improved," Indonesia`s Coordinating Minister for People`s Welfare Agung Laksono said.

Officials noted that the AHA Center would coordinate the establishment, maintenance and periodical review of regional standby arrangements for disaster relief and emergency response.

UN Data on Natural Disaster

In 2012 flood was the most frequent disaster occurring in Asia (44%) and had the highest human and economic impact. They accounted for 54% of the death toll in Asia, 78% of people affected and 56% of all economic damages in the region.

According to study conducted by the Louvain University Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED) with the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) in Southern, South-Eastern and Eastern Asia, 83 disasters caused 3,103 deaths, affected a total of 64.5 million people and triggered US$ 15.1 billion damages in 2012.

Globally, these three regions accounted for 57 per cent of the total deaths, 74 per cent of the affected people and 34 per cent of the total economic damages caused by disasters in the first ten months of 2012. Worldwide, 231 disasters caused 5,469 deaths, affected a total of 87 million others, and caused US$ 44.6 billion economic damages.

"Fortunately this year, the regions did not suffer from any major disaster, such as an earthquake. Asian disaster figures are low compared to other years and this is good news," said Dr. Debby Sapir, Director of CRED.

"The 2012 figures show that floods and storms affected most people and caused most economic damages in the regions. Data also suggest that some high risk countries in the region have made significant progress in controlling disaster impacts. This means that preparedness and prevention measures can be effective," she said.

Jerry Velasquez, Head of the UNISDR Asia Pacific, said: "The relative reduction in the number of disasters so far this year in the region is not a cause for complacency. We must still contend with the fact that risk is growing faster than wealth is being created. Exposure is on the rise and flooding represents a serious challenge to Asian cities as we have seen earlier in 2012 in Beijing and Manila where these two cities were partly flooded in a couple of hours.

"Flood risk must be addressed in a more systematic manner and integrated in all urban and development management plans if we want to ensure sustainable economic growth and better protect people and their assets as extreme weather events will be more frequent and severe in the future." ***4***

(T.A051/A/A051/A/O001) 05-02-2013 14:53:47