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A helping hand when disaster strikes

ASEAN is committed to risk reduction and management of disasters that hit the region.

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The Singapore Civil Defence Force's Operation Lionheart team members conducting search operations in Laos.

SINCE 1967, ASEAN Member States have collectively experienced more than 1,600 natural disasters that have affected over 450 million people, making South-east Asia one of the most vulnerable regions in the world to natural disasters.

ASEAN's commitment to disaster risk reduction and management is enshrined in the ASEAN Agreement on Disaster Management and Emergency Response (AADMER).

The AADMER has led to significant initiatives such as the establishment of the ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance in disaster management (AHA Centre), the ASEAN declaration of "One ASEAN One Response: ASEAN Responding to Disasters as One in the Region and Outside the Region", and the appointment of the ASEAN Secretariat Secretary General as the ASEAN Humanitarian Assistance Coordinator.

AHA CENTRE

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The AHA Centre is an inter-governmental organisation that aims to facilitate cooperation and coordination in disaster management among ASEAN Member States.

It enables ASEAN to monitor and prepare for potential natural disasters, carry out assessments of disasters, and coordinate the response and humanitarian assistance from both ASEAN and non-ASEAN countries when disaster strikes.

The AHA Centre also supports capacity-building initiatives, such as the ASEAN Emergency Response and Assessment Team (ERAT) programme.

The ERAT programme has developed a pool of members who can be quickly deployed to disaster zones to assist the local National Disaster Management Organisation (NDMO) in assessing the needs of the affected communities, and coordinate the deployment of humanitarian assistance.

To date, ASEAN ERAT members have been deployed to 26 missions within the region. During the recent Central Sulawesi Earthquake, the AHA Centre mobilised 29 ASEAN ERAT members, making it the highest number of ERAT members deployed in a single mission so far.

ESTABLISHING A REGIONAL RESPONSE MECHANISM

The ASEAN Joint Disaster Response Plan (AJDRP) was established to provide a common framework to deliver an effective joint response to complex disasters.

The AJDRP involves government agencies and humanitarian partners who identify and earmark assets which may be available and mobilised for disaster relief and emergency response.

The Singapore Civil Defence Force's (SCDF) Operation Lionheart Contingent is one such asset under the AJDRP.

At the request of the Laos government, two Operation Lionheart teams were deployed to assist with search and recovery operations in Laos, following the severe flood caused by the damaged Xe-Pien Xe-Namnoy hydroelectric dam earlier this year.

DISASTER RISK REDUCTION AND MANAGEMENT STRATEGIES

In recent years, ASEAN has implemented several initiatives to develop comprehensive disaster risk reduction and management strategies to boost community resiliency and mitigate the potential impact of disasters.

One initiative is the ASEAN Disaster Risk Financing and Insurance Roadmap which provides financing solutions to enable communities to recover faster from disasters.

At the community level, the ASEAN Safe School Initiative aims to enhance school safety to better withstand disasters.

THOUGHT LEADERSHIP IN DISASTER MANAGEMENT

Singapore has been hosting the annual ASEAN Strategic Policy Dialogue on Disaster Management (SPDDM) since 2015.

The dialogue brings together representatives from government agencies, non-government organisations and private sector organisations to share their experiences and exchange ideas on innovative solutions to manage disasters.

Over the years, the SPDDM has led to the establishment of a network of like-minded organisations and strengthened public-private partnerships in responding to disasters.

Other capability-building programmes, such as the Senior Executive Programme in Disaster Management, hosted annually at the SCDF Civil Defence Academy, and the flagship AHA Centre Executive Programme, bring together leaders of National Disaster Management Offices from ASEAN Member States to share their knowledge, experiences and best practices with one another.

SUPPORT FROM UN AND OTHER PARTNERS

ASEAN also works with United Nations (UN) agencies and dialogue partners to develop programmes to strengthen regional institutions and equip citizens with basic resources to prepare for potential disasters.

For example, the Joint Strategic Plan of Action on Disaster Management is a commitment by ASEAN and the UN to work together, guided by the strategies and priorities of the AADMER Work Programme.

In addition, to ensure that all civilian and military stakeholders are able to operate effectively in accordance with international humanitarian principles, the AHA Centre also worked with the UN to develop a Humanitarian Civil-Military Coordination Course for ASEAN Member States.

The establishment of the Disaster Emergency Logistics System for ASEAN Warehouse in Malaysia, with two more warehouses to be established in Thailand and the Philippines, ensures that stockpiles of relief items can be swiftly despatched to affected communities within the region.

  • The writer is a Senior Assistant Commissioner and director of strategic planning department at the Singapore Civil Defence Force.