UN, World Bank Pledge SE Asia Disaster Cooperation

JAKARTA ~ The United Nations and the World Bank pledged this week closer coordination with Southeast Asia in tackling the rising threat of natural disasters in the heavily populated region.

The World Bank and the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction signed the agreement for technical assistance to help the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) implement a joint strategy to deal with disasters and the effects of climate change, a statement said.

“With 570 million people in the region, it is time for us to be better prepared for future disasters by empowering ourselves with better techniques and coordinating mechanisms involving the governments and civil societies of ASEAN,” ASEAN Secretary General Surin Pitsuwan said in the statement.

The association has been criticised for a lacklustre response to disasters in the region, which experiences frequent earthquakes, storms and volcanic eruptions and is expected to be hard-hit by rising sea levels and wild weather caused by climate change.

The 10-member bloc signed a joint agreement on disaster management and emergency response after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami killed 220,000 people in Asia, but it has not yet come into force.

ASEAN has also been faulted for failing to pressure Myanmar’s reclusive military junta to allow in international aid after Cyclone Nargis devastated the country’s south in May last year, leaving 138,000 dead or missing.

A group of officials from the UN and ASEAN were eventually allowed to coordinate aid with Myanmar’s government, but aid workers say long-term reconstruction has been poorly lacking.

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