UN urged to set up rapid reaction unit for disasters

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The Independent Online
THEY FOUND friendship am-ong the ruins of each other's earthquake- shattered cities. Now Turkey and Greece want to give the UN an international rescue team to deal with earthquakes and other disasters.

It is a fitting gesture: rescue workers were the first to hold out the hand of friendship after the earthquake that killed 15,000 in Turkey last month. No one here will forget the sight of Greek rescuers pulling Turkish survivors from the wreckage - or of Turkish teams rushing to Athens when it was hit by its own quake.

But it will be a strange moment at the UN when two of the world's worst neighbours present their first joint resolution. The international commu-nity is more used to dragging Turkey and Greece apart: three times in the past 25 years they have been on the brink of war.

According to Turkish diplomats, under the terms of the draft resolution Turkish and Greek relief workers will form the nucleus of an international team that will be open to experts from all countries.

The team will be an official service of the UN, but will be independently funded by countries prepared to contribute rescuers. It will be equipped to respond to all forms of natural disaster.

The UN has a rescue co- ordinating office in Geneva, but no official emergency rescue service.

This is more than a gesture. It is a test of the ability of Turkey and Greece to work together. The scheme is the brainchild of the disaster diplomats: the Turkish and Greek Foreign Ministers, Ismail Cem and George Papandreou, who apparently devised the plan over coffee in New York. "I think both our Foreign Ministers wanted to make something more concrete out of the goodwill that came from the earthquakes," a Greek diplomat said.

Nevertheless, the rescue teams that won praise in the Turkish and Greek quakes were the volunteer organisations, not the official government teams. There may even be whispers that this new scheme is an effort by the state to claim credit that in truth belongs to the volunteers.

Whatever the criticisms, Turkey and Greece are doing something positive at last.