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Leaders sign pact to help lessen risks from disasters

By Dave Segal

LAST UPDATED: 1:36 a.m. HST, Nov 12, 2011

With last March's Tokyo disaster still fresh in their minds, leaders from the public and private sectors signed a joint "statement of intent" Friday to work together in reducing risk from potential disasters and improving recovery efforts across the Asia-Pacific region.

"Disasters are not going away, but the reality how to deal with them has to be upgraded," said U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Thomas Donohue.

Alfonso Martinez-Fonts Jr., executive vice president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said the disaster in Japan expedited the signing of the joint agreement at the APEC CEO Summit in Waikiki.

"Even though this work has been going on for a long time, when that happened I think the thing really got elevated," said Martinez-Fonts. "Of course, we had just had the New Zealand Christchurch earthquake. The Australian floods came right after that. A year ago we had the Chilean mines. So the whole Asia-Pacific region has really taken a beating over the last few years."

Martinez-Fonts said a lot of people are doing the right things, "but when you can coordinate, you can get it done so much better, so much faster. That's where the benefit is to this whole thing."

Organizations and their representatives who signed the "statement of intent" were Donohue; Chief of Staff Rear Adm. Robin Watters of the U.S. Pacific Command; M.R.C. Greenwood, president of the University of Hawaii; Nancy Lindborg, assistant administrator for the U.S. Agency for International Development; and Andy Winer, director of external affairs for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Signing the agreement in advance were Ford Foundation President Luis Ubinas, Rockefeller Foundation President Judith Rodin, U.S.-Japan Council President Irene Hirano and Timothy Manning, Federal Emergency Management Agency deputy administrator for protection and national preparedness.

Greenwood said UH has offered to accommodate the initiative and said the university's strong international connections throughout the region will make the university an ideal home.

The Asia-Pacific region comprises 52 percent of Earth's surface area yet experiences more than 70 percent of the world's natural disasters, according to the Meridian Institute, which coordinated the joint signing.

"Countries and communities can't do it alone," said Michael Lesnick, a senior partner with the Meridian Institute. "This is about how the public and private sectors and nongovernment groups can collaborate to better prepare for, respond to and recover from disasters."

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