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Politicians, aid officials meet in Japan to convene on disaster management

SENDAI, Japan--Politicians and aid officials gathered on Tuesday in the northeast of Japan, a region devastated by last year's quake and tsunami, to discuss what lessons can be learned from disasters.

Pre-emptive measures to reduce damage — and save lives — when nature strikes were top of the agenda at the two-day conference, part of the annual meetings of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

Organizers picked Sendai as the capital of a region that lost nearly 19,000 people when the massive waves of March 2011 rolled ashore, crushing whole communities.

Kazushige Taniguchi, the World Bank's special representative to Japan said delegates would “share and learn from Japan's experience in last year's quake and tsunami disaster.”

“Lots of developing countries are today rapidly putting up infrastructure without paying enough attention to disaster prevention.

“We aim to make it standard to incorporate disaster prevention into the planning of development aid,” he told reporters ahead of the meeting.

On Wednesday, IMF managing director Christine Lagarde and World Bank president Jim Yong Kim will visit disaster-hit areas before wrapping up the two-day conference.

The Sendai talks are expected to feed into the communique to be issued on Saturday at the meeting of the Development Committee, the highest Fund and Bank joint decision-making body, Taniguchi said.

Last week, Japan and the World Bank released a joint study aimed at sharing experience from last year, when a 9.0-magnitude quake and resulting tsunami crushed the coast and triggered the worst nuclear crisis in a generation.

The study, comprising 32 “knowledge notes” on disaster risk management and post-disaster reconstruction, will be used as a basis of discussions in Sendai.

“We hope aid practitioners will find the knowledge notes useful, as they include some novel findings such as importance of education that would percolate into people's behavior,” said Taniguchi.

They also talk about the importance of paying attention to supply chains, a key lesson from Japan's disaster where global industries like the automotive sector were crippled when a key parts production line was knocked out.

Education, the distribution of hazard maps and the issuance of early warnings as well as the importance of reinforcing key buildings also feature.

The report notes the usefulness of social media for search, rescue and fundraising, and the importance of constructing temporary housing and maintaining existing sources of income in the recovery phase.

Many of these notes are ongoing challenges for Japan, where 329,000 people are still living in temporary homes, nearly 19 months on.

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