Archipelago

Experts meet to promote
disaster risk reduction

A two-day symposium on disaster risk reduction and resilience is being held in Yogyakarta to offer academics, NGOs, the private sector, government officials and military personnel the chance to discuss and exchange information and experiences gained in the Asia-Pacific region.

Hundreds of participants from Indonesia, Japan and the US joined the symposium, which runs until Friday and is presented in partnership by Gadjah Mada University (UGM), the Indonesian Islamic University (UII) and the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

“The Asia-Pacific region is the most natural disaster-prone area in the world. This region is exposed to many hazards including earthquakes, tsunamis, landslides and volcanic eruptions,” deputy chair of Asia Pacific Disaster Risk Reduction and Resilience (APDR3), Alfonso Martinez Fonts, said in his remarks at the opening ceremony of the symposium on Thursday.

According to a report by the United Nations, earthquakes in Japan and major flooding in Thailand had caused economic losses of US$ 294 billion. This figure amounts to around 80 percent of the total economic losses suffered worldwide in 2011 of $366.1 billion, due to natural disasters.

A 2012 Asia-Pacific disaster report by the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) and the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and Pacific (ESCAP) said the economic
developments in many countries had not reduced the susceptibility of those respective countries in facing disasters, but instead had created a greater number of risks for the public.

Head of the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB), Samsul Maarif, said that from the 1970s through 2011, some 2 million people in the Asia-Pacific region had died as a result of natural disasters.

One of the most important actors to consider in any measures taken, he said, was the private sector. So far, according to Samsul, the role played by this sector mostly focused on emergency response and post-disaster recovery.

Maya Soetoro-Ng, a professor of education from the University of Hawai’i at Manoa, expressed her confidence that the meeting could come up with solutions for natural disaster risk reduction, not only for Asia Pacific but also globally.

“I am so impressed with the level of communication and democratic conversations in the community that I have witnessed on the slopes of Mount Merapi with the UII, and a landslide area [in Karanganyar, Central Java] with UGM,” said Soetoro, who is also the half-sister of US President Barrack Obama.

During her stay in Yogyakarta, Soetoro has given general lectures at UGM and the UII. She also had the chance to view the lahar and landslide detection device on the slopes of Mt. Merapi. “The information and communication system among universities, the people and the government with regard to Merapi’s eruption is relatively good. This could be a model for application in other places, and even across the Asia-Pacific region,” she said.

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