Asia-Wide Disaster Exercise Endorsed: Statement

SINGAPORE ~ Asia’s top security forum endorsed on Thursday a US-proposal for a region-wide preparedness exercise after two major disasters struck the region this year, a statement said.

The ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) disaster relief exercise could commence next year, with disaster-prone Philippines likely to be the venue, an official said.

“The Philippines and the US have initiated discussions on potential sites and dates, identified logistical procedures and requirements” and looked at proposed rules for participation, said the ARF chairman’s statement, obtained by the AFP newswire.

The 27-member ASEAN Regional Forum includes all 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) as well as the European Union, United States, China and other nations.

Disaster preparedness has risen high on the regional agenda after Cyclone Nargis struck military-ruled Myanmar and an earthquake in southwest China together left more than 200,000 people dead or missing in May.

ASEAN was criticized for failing to pressure member state Myanmar to open its borders to foreign relief workers in the immediate aftermath of the cyclone, but won over many of its critics by eventually leading a joint international aid effort.

The ARF foreign ministers noted that many of the group’s member countries are “in a region prone to natural disasters” and stressed the importance of boosting cooperation “in the areas of emergency preparedness, disaster relief and management, rehabilitation and reconstruction,” the statement said.

“They agreed that there should be further training, technical assistance and coordination among ARF participants in advance of disasters,” the statement, to be officially released later on Thursday, added.

The ministers also called for greater civil-military coordination for multinational disasters.

“They recognized that military assets and personnel, in full support and not in place of civilian responses, have played an increasingly important role in regional disaster response,” the statement said.

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