APEC Beefs Up Disaster Responses at Australia Conference

An APEC conference in northern Australia has unveiled a multi-million dollar aid package for disaster-hit regions. Australian officials say that in 2005 the overwhelming majority of those killed from natural disasters were in the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) region. From Sydney, Phil Mercer reports.

Delegates at the three-day meeting were told that members of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation group suffer more from natural disasters than any other region.

Seven in 10 of those killed by storms, earthquakes and tsunamis since 2000 lived in APEC member countries.

Officials from the United Nations have reported that serious flooding across Asia and South America was a reminder that the number of extreme events had risen in recent times.

The disaster experts from 21 countries have spent the past few days looking at ways to reduce the damage from natural disasters and to speed up emergency services after a disaster strikes.

Australia and Indonesia chaired the meeting of APEC emergency experts in the Australian city of Cairns. The two countries cooperated closely after the Asian tsunami in December 2004.

The conference has also looked at ways to prepare for the threat of terrorism.

Australian Attorney General Philip Ruddock says the attacks in Britain in July 2005 showed that careful disaster planning helped the authorities to cope better.

"When they had the London bombing the people who were responsible for dealing with those emergencies had been undertaking exercises only the day or so before," said Ruddock. "The fact that they had been exercising and practicing and working out how they would respond to an emergency that like if it did arise meant that they were able to handle it much more efficiently and effectively."

Australia will contribute an extra $12 million to help with regional disaster relief and management.

The meeting in Cairns included representatives from the 21 governments that form the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.

The forum accounts for roughly half the world's trade.

Members include China, Japan, United States and a host of smaller economies from Asia and Latin America.

Australia's biggest city, Sydney, will hold the annual APEC leaders' summit in early September.