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BANGKOK, 29 July 2008 (IRIN) - A sense of urgency after several natural disasters has propelled Asia-Pacific nations into drawing up "concrete, practical" plans for cooperation in disaster management, a senior regional official has said.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Regional Forum (ARF) concluded its annual meeting on 24 July in Singapore with disaster management high on the agenda after Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar and the earthquake in Sichuan, China.

"Knowing that this region is very prone to natural disaster, I think there was a sense of urgency within the ARF to move expeditiously ... and to be ready in the event the next disaster happens," Pratap Parameswaran, head of the ARF Unit at the ASEAN secretariat, told IRIN.

At the end of the meeting, the ARF announced it would hold its first region-wide disaster relief exercise and consider deploying military assets as part of plans to deepen cooperation on disaster management.

The exercise is tentatively scheduled for 2009 in the Philippines, said Parameswaran, who hailed the initiative as a concrete step forward for the 27-member security forum often criticised as just a "talking shop". 

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