The University of Hawaii is working with Asian institutions to
create a field of study that covers all aspects of natural
disasters. Indonesia has been chosen as the focus country.
The Asia-Pacific may be the biggest driver of the global economy,
but it is also the runaway leader in a category that no region would
covet: natural disasters.
Between 2001 and 2010, the Asia-Pacific had the most natural
disasters, along with the highest number of deaths and the biggest
economic losses resulting from them, of any area in the world. On
average, more than 200 million people in the region were affected
per year by natural disasters during that span, including more than
70,000 killed annually, according to a 2011 report by the U.N.
Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific.
Economic losses from disasters are significant. In 2011, the
region suffered $294 billion in losses, or 80 percent of the total
worldwide, because of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan and floods
in Southeast Asia, according to a U.N. report.
The National Disaster Preparedness Training Center at the
University of Hawaii has become one of the forerunners in seeking
solutions for the region. The university is the main academic member
of the Asia-Pacific Disaster Risk Reduction and Resilience, or
A.P.D.R.3, network, which grew out of the 2011 Asia-Pacific Economic
Cooperation summit meeting in Honolulu, hosted by President Barack
The university is also involved in an initiative to create a new
field of study that covers all aspects of natural disasters, an
issue that was discussed in June at the A.P.R.D.3 symposium in
Yogyakarta, an Indonesian city that is susceptible to earthquakes,
tsunamis, volcanic eruptions and lava flows from Mount Merapi, an
Academics from the United States, Japan and Indonesia are now
collaborating on a way to create an academic network that they are
calling "Disaster University." "Something like 80 percent of
disasters over the last couple of decades have been in the Asia-
Pacific, and one of the problems is we've been in response mode and
recovery mode, and not in preparation mode," said M.R.C. Greenwood,
president of the University of Hawaii. "It became clear that people
have to be trained differently, and somebody has to create this new
field of disaster resilience, not just disaster management and
For example, Tohoku University in Japan, which is working with
the University of Hawaii, does not have courses covering the
psychological and behavioral management side of disaster response.
"They're great engineers -- they're great at clearing the roads,"
Dr. Greenwood said. "But what they really did not have is a program
in their university for training people how to manage the trauma,
how to rebuild their lives -- not just their buildings but their
The University of Hawaii chose Indonesia as the focus country for
the Disaster University initiative and is working with Gadjah Mada
University and the Islamic University of Indonesia, both of which
are located in Yogyakarta.
Maya Soetoro-Ng, an assistant professor at the University of
Hawaii and Mr. Obama's half-sister, is involved in the A. …