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Monday, November 5, 2007

World cities join hands to overcome disasters

Evi Mariani, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

As a city that seems to have more than its fair share of disasters, Jakarta has joined an international association of cities that will work together to mitigate their effects in the future.

In the last few years, Indonesia has seen floods, earthquakes and bomb blasts in both urban and rural areas. A disaster in a densely populated city requires a different reaction to one in a remote village.

"Each city is unique. However, major cities around the world share a lot of similarities. They face more or less the same problems," Mikiko Yoshimura, the director for International Joint Projects at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, told The Jakarta Post recently.

She said Jakarta had more in common with Bangkok than with a neighboring Indonesian city.

"Most capitals share problems like water, transportation, health and environment," Yoshimura said.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government in 2000 led the foundation of the Asian Network of Major Cities 21 (ANMC21). So far, 11 cities are members: Bangkok, Delhi, Hanoi, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, Manila, Seoul, Singapore, Taipei, Tokyo and Yangon.

"The objective of this network is to share knowledge and experiences concerning common practical problems. We don't touch political problems," Yoshimura said.

So far the ANMC21 has established 12 joint projects ranging from the development of a small passenger jet for traveling throughout the region to the Asian Performing Art Festival.

"The most popular are the Network for Crisis Management and the Countermeasures to Combat Infectious Diseases in Asia," said Yoshimura.

During the last week of October, Jakarta played host to the 5th Conference of the Network for Crisis Management. This year's annual conference focused on managing and mitigating disasters like fires, earthquakes and floods.

The city presentations showed the different problems faced by each city: Kuala Lumpur spoke about the possible explosion of a nearby oil plant, while Seoul focused on the potential for a similar accident at a nuclear plant.

Yoshimura believed that a conference providing a forum to share experiences was useful even for a more developed city like Tokyo.

"We learned a lot from Taipei about dealing with SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome). We draw inspiration to combat our own threat of infectious diseases. HIV/AIDS, for example, is a threat in Tokyo," she said.

Therefore, she said, she believed such crisis management conferences would be useful for other cities as well, including Jakarta.

"I heard Jakarta has a crisis center for floods now? I won't claim that it is because of ANMC21. But some Jakarta officials visited our crisis center in Tokyo. Surely they got some ideas for developing their center," Yoshimura said.

Separately, the chairman of the Earthquake and Megacities Initiative (EMI), Fouad Bendimerad, said that he believed cooperation between cities was important in reducing risk.

EMI's staff have visited Jakarta City Hall several times to help develop a framework for their Disaster Reduction Management Plan. The plan covers the overall strategy, approach and action for long term disaster risk reduction in Jakarta.

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