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[JAKARTA] South-East Asian countries have unveiled a regional centre to coordinate disaster management, with an emphasis on amassing and improving knowledge on disaster science.

The ten member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) launched the ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on Disaster Management (AHA Centre) last month (27 January).

Based in Jakarta, Indonesia, the centre will connect all disaster management agencies in the region and provide warning of disasters by linking up early warning systems.

The centre will also gather natural disaster data — such as disaster vulnerability maps — scattered across the region, and develop new technologies to predict and deal with disasters.

For example, Ridwan Djamaluddin, deputy head of technology for natural resources development at Indonesia's Agency for the Assessment and Application of Technology — the AHA Centre's host agency — told SciDev.Net that the centre will use remote sensing technology to monitor the entire region.

"Remote sensing technology will be used to monitor weather, forest fires, volcanic eruptions and disaster impacts," said Djamaluddin. He added that the centre will issue updates on disaster situations and that all its data would be freely available to ASEAN National Disaster Management offices.

Local universities and national disaster centres in member countries will be involved in the AHA Centre's research.

Allen Yuhung Lai, a disaster management expert at the National University of Singapore, told SciDev.Net : "[The centre] is a good move if the mandate is executed for resource integration and relief coordination by applying cutting edge technology."

But it is critical to do a "health check-up" of each member state's disaster management capacity and policies, he said, and added that applying advanced technology only solves part of the problem.

The centre will begin operating in June this year and is receiving US$6 million from Japan, US$500,000 each from Australia and the United States, and technical support from New Zealand.

While not finalised, each ASEAN country is expected to contribute US$100,000 per year and Indonesia — as the host — is set to spend $555,000 per year.

The centre is under the responsibility of the ASEAN Disaster Management and Humanitarian Assistance Division. But Alexander Lim, the head of the separate science and technology division at the ASEAN secretariat, said that the S&T's flagship programme on early warning systems and disaster risk reduction is also expected to feed into the AHA Centre's work.