Regional Policy Forum for Asia and the Pacific

OCHA convened a 2013 Regional Policy Forum for Asia-Pacific on 28-29 May 2013 in Bangkok. The two-day workshop brought together 60 people, representing 17 different countries and territories in the region (Australia, Bangladesh, People's Republic of China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, New Zealand, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Chinese Taipei and Thailand). Participants came from national and regional humanitarian organizations, national academic institutions, civil society groups, the private sector, as well as representatives of select international organizations, to discuss issues around improving the effectiveness of humanitarian partnerships in Asia-Pacific.

A number of key themes emerged from the discussions. These included:

Increasingly empowered governments and a more limited role for international humanitarian aid

Governments in the region are increasingly capable of responding to disasters and coordinating international aid themselves. In addition, they are increasingly unwilling to “request” international assistance, preferring to simply “welcome” international aid, which has legal implications for how and when humanitarians can respond. This might require a rethinking of the basic framework for international assistance. In general, the role of the international system is increasingly seen as providing capacity building and technical support for local and national actors, dissemination of best practice and standard setting and advocacy, rather than providing direct assistance.

The need for localization and community empowerment

There is a need to address risk, vulnerability and preparedness at the local level. This is because small and medium disasters, which are often overlooked, typically hit the most vulnerable populations, exacerbating poverty and potentially building conditions for large scale disasters. Strengthening local communities requires better training for local government, and streamlined procedures for linking national and local government agencies in a crisis. Several participants also cited the need to look at emerging models, such as youth or religious groups, the use of social media and other factors that are changing the way communities organized themselves.

Need for stronger legal frameworks at the national and regional levels

In a number of contexts, participants highlighted the need to clarify and strengthen the legal frameworks for managing disaster aid and response. This includes the need for wider adoption of national disaster management laws, with clear frameworks governing international actors; streamlining of domestic coordination structures, as well as improved inter-ministerial cooperation and better education at all levels on existing rules and legislation. Participants acknowledged the increased role of regional mechanisms, particularly the ASEAN Agreement on Disaster Management and Emergency Response (AADMER) and the ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance (AHA Centre).

Improved coordination and engagement with the private sector and other new partners

The private sector was recognized as an increasingly central player in all stages of humanitarian action.  While it was recognized that humanitarians had a great deal to learn from the private sector in terms of risk management, logistics and other areas, there is a need to create platforms that match private sector capacities with gaps in humanitarian response. In general, with both private sector as well as other emerging partners, such as religious or diaspora groups, there is a need for the international humanitarian community to help set standards and certification systems, provide training and generally foster greater professionalization. This could include ensuring that existing coordination mechanisms are inclusive and effective in bringing together these different groups.

Next steps

The Forum ended with a commitment from participants to continue to work to bring together academics, NGOs, private sector companies and others in the region to advance a common agenda on improving the effectiveness of humanitarian response.

Summary report