DUSHANBE, November 15, Asia-Plus  -- A regional consultative meeting to discuss issues related to disaster risk reduction in Central Asia that opened at the Kokhi Vahdat State Complex in Dushanbe yesterday afternoon is going on. 

According to Mr. Marc Fumagalli, Information Officer, European Commission (EC) Delegation to Tajikistan, the objective of the meeting is to review the current activities and programs in place as well as discuss the Fifth Action Plan, which will be vital in formulating an appropriate DIPECHO (Disaster Preparedness ECHO) strategy for Central Asia in 2008.

The conference participants include representatives from all Central Asian countries, as well as relevant stakeholders such as NGO partners, civil society, donors and experts.  This will allow the strategic priorities to be discussed and decided upon as comprehensively as possible.

Today, the conference is considering national and regional platforms on preventing disasters.  Besides, issues related to training of specialists and scientific approach to reducing disaster and climate change risk are also being discussed at the meeting.  

In the afternoon, the conference participants are expected to adopt recommendations for further DIPECHO programs.  

Tomorrow, the meeting participants are expected to visit DIPECHO projects in Gorno Badakhshan, Varzob, Rasht and Hissor valleys.  

Over the last four years, the European Commission''s Humanitarian Aid department (ECHO) has put four DIPECHO Action Plans in place for Central Asia, worth 15.5 million euros.

The DIPECHO program funds disaster preparedness projects in regions which are prone to natural catastrophes.  It does so by improving the mechanisms for populations at risk in disaster-prone regions to increase their capacity to foresee, respond and cope with the effects of disasters.

In Central Asia, the program covers Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. These populations are permanently threatened by the possibility of large scale disasters such as earthquakes, landslides and floods.

As the time to formulate the Fifth Action Plan in Central Asia approaches, the regional consultative meeting is organized for the first time in Tajikistan. 

The European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid department (ECHO) is under the responsibility of European Commissioner Louis Michel. It has a mandate to provide relief assistance to people in distress. It funds relief operations outside the EU, for victims of man-made or natural disasters, conflicts or other crises; assists refugees or displaced people; supports short-term rehabilitation and construction; and ensures disaster preparedness.

Working with its partners in the field, ECHO acts swiftly to supply aid when disaster strikes and continues to help stricken regions even after the media spotlight and political interest has shifted elsewhere. Aid is channeled impartially, straight to victims, regardless of their race, nationality, religion, gender, age, ethnic origin or political affiliation.

The European Commission is the biggest humanitarian aid donor in the world, implementing projects through partner organizations such as NGOs, UN agencies and the Red Cross / Red Crescent Societies. Funds are spent on goods and services such as food, clothing, shelter, medical provisions, water supplies, sanitation, emergency repairs and mine-clearing.