A new milestone has been reached by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in the evolution of disaster management for the region. Recently, the Philippines Senate ratified the ASEAN Agreement on Disaster Management and Emergency Response (AADMER), and with that the agreement is expected to enter into force by the end of 2009. The ratification marks a significant highlight in ASEANs collective efforts to build a disaster-resilient community by the year 2015. The agreement binds ASEAN member states into legal responsibilities to promote regional cooperation and collaboration in reducing disaster losses and intensifying joint emergency response to disasters in the ASEAN region.
Margareta Wahlstrm, the UN Secretary-Generals Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction described the agreement as the first of its kind in the world, an agreement that oblige Asian states together to address disaster risk reduction and improve their preparedness for response. It also provides for the establishment of an ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on disaster management (AHA Centre) to undertake operational coordination of activities under the Agreement. Since the signing of the AADMER agreement in 2005, ASEAN has put into place measures for standard operating procedures, training and capacity building, disaster information sharing, communication network, and rapid assessment team. Cyclone Nargis which affected Myanmar last year became a test bed for ASEAN coordinating mechanism and its role as the humanitarian bridge between the international community and the affected population.(i)
The ASEAN Committee on Disaster Management (ACDM) was established
in 2003. Its formation elevated the institutional mechanism which has existed since the 1970s and comprised of experts group. The ACDM consists of heads of national agencies responsible for disaster management of ASEAN member countries. With the objective of having disaster-resilient nations and safer communities, ACDM developed an ASEAN Regional Programme on Disaster Management (ARPDM) which provided the framework for cooperation for the period 2004-2010. This regional programme consequently became the platform for cooperation and collaboration with ASEAN Dialogue Partners and relevant international organizations. Its regional strategy on disaster management identified priorities encompassing response action plan, capacity building, information sharing and communication network, partnership with pertinent stakeholders, funding support, and generating public awareness including activities for disaster risk reduction. The programme , launched in May 2004 became the structure for concerted regional cooperation in disaster management in the ASEAN region fitting in well with the regional strategy for disaster reduction.(ii)
In the aftermath of the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami, ASEAN leaders held a special meeting to strengthen measures for emergency relief, rehabilitation, reconstruction and prevention. The meeting adopted a declaration of action in these areas notably of mobilizing the international community to support national relief emergency programme. Of significance was the call for the development of a regional instrument on disaster management and emergency response, the establishment of tsunami early warning system for the Indian Ocean and the Southeast Asian region, and implementation of preventive measures including public awareness and capacity building. (iii)
An interesting feature in ASEANs evolution of disaster management was the tacit acceptance by member states for the utilization of military together with civilian personnel in disaster relief. The establishment of a centre to coordinate regional disaster response was also agreed upon and is now ongoing.
The ASEAN Agreement on Disaster Management and Emergency Response (AADMER) which was signed by the member countries in July 2005 in Vientiane, Lao PDR, established the mechanisms for achieving substantial disaster risks reduction and emergency response. A salient feature of this accord is that the agreed framework for disaster risk reduction is based on the Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA) 2005 -2015: Building the Resilience of Nations and Communities to Disasters.
ASEAN conducts annual disaster simulation exercises to enhance the
capacities and capabilities of member countries in joint disaster management operations. These simulation exercises organized in conjunction with contingency planning workshops facilitated the implementation of the AADMER and also the development of the ASEAN Standby Arrangements and Standard Procedures (SASOP) for regional disaster management. (iv)
The logical progression in its evolution apparently is broadening regional cooperation in disaster management and this is borne in the agenda of the fourth East Asia Summit (EAS) held in Hua Hin, Thailand.
(i) Press Release. ASEAN Disaster Management Agreement to Enter into Force by End of 2009. ASEAN Secretariat, 16 September 2009.
(ii) Association of Southeast Asian Nations. The ASEAN Agreement on Disaster Management and Emergency Response.
(iii) Association of Southeast Asian Nations. ASEAN Standby Arrangements for
Disaster Relief and Emergency Response
(iv) Association of Southeast Asian Nations. ASEAN Disaster News Watch. 6 September 2006. ASEAN to test regional emergency response and humanitarian assistance capacities in a simulated flood disaster in Cambodia.
Note: The Association of Southeast Asian Nations is composed of Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Viet Nam.