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Friday, May 6, 2011

Noda names disaster prevention as one of Asia's most important development issues


By KO HIRANO
Kyodo

HANOI — Japan called Thursday for "mainstreaming" disaster prevention in the Asia-Pacific development agenda in the wake of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that devastated northeastern Japan and set off a continuing nuclear crisis.

"I think that the lesson we have learned from the recent disaster is that in disaster prevention, it is important not only to develop the necessary physical infrastructure but also to mainstream the importance of disaster prevention in the mindset of both policymakers and citizens," Japanese Finance Minister Yoshihiko Noda said in an address to an annual meeting in Hanoi of the Asian Development Bank.

"It is essential to learn about successes and failures experienced in the past disasters and share what is learned by policymakers and citizens through education and public relations activities," Noda said.

He added such action is vital for Japan and other Asian economies that are prone to natural disasters such as earthquakes and floods. Citing data, he said about 90 percent of the people who were affected by water-related disasters such as tsunamis and cyclones between 1978 and 2007 lived in the Asia-Pacific region.

"We must redirect our attention to this harsh reality," he said. "Natural disasters take away countless precious lives, and ruin past development efforts instantly. In that sense, disaster prevention can be considered as the most important development issue."

Noda asked other countries to "react calmly, based on scientific facts" to rumors Japanese products may be contaminated with radioactivity.

"The Japanese government has adopted regulation on agricultural products and foods in accordance with international standards and is conducting daily inspection," he said. "Agricultural products and foods that show radiation levels exceeding the regulatory limits are not shipped domestically or exported to other countries."

The finance minister assured the safety of industrial products as well, saying industrial production has been halted at factories within a radius of 20 kilometers of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant that was crippled in the March quake and tsunami.

"Japan intends to promptly provide the international community with accurate information with a maximum level of transparency," he added.

In a meeting with Noda on Wednesday, Yoon Jeung Hyun, South Korea's minister of strategy and finance, and Chinese Vice Finance Minister Li Yong agreed to take a calm response to rumors about the safety of Japanese products, but they stopped short of saying the two countries would ease or remove controls on Japanese imports.

In his address, Noda advocated the concept of an "Asia Cargo Highway" as part of efforts to create seamless flows of goods in Asia to boost regional trade.

With the concept and Japan's pledge last year of $25 million to the ADB for regional trade facilitation, Japan will work closely with the bank, the World Customs Organization and other entities to support Asia's drives to promote "connectivity" in the fast-growing region through increased trade facilitation, he said.

Noda also threw his "strong support" behind ADB President Haruhiko Kuroda's intention to continue as head of the Manila-based lender after his term ends in November.

"The Asia-Pacific region is left with challenges to be tackled, including reducing poverty and inequality, and meeting large infrastructure needs," Noda said. "I believe that the strong leadership exercised by President Kuroda remains essential.

"I strongly hope that the other governors will also share my support for Mr. Kuroda," he said, referring to finance ministers and senior officials representing ADB member economies at the Hanoi gathering.

Kuroda, a former Japanese vice finance minister for international affairs, became ADB president in February 2005. The ADB presidency has been held by Japanese nationals since the bank's foundation in 1966.



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