Hazards and Vulnerability
Between 2000 and 2010, 40 per cent of the world’s registered disaster events occurred in the Asia-Pacific region . Population growth, environmental degradation, and the growth of mega cities in low-lying flood plains and earthquake zones have increased the exposure of millions to natural hazards. It is estimated that the Asia-Pacific region accounted for some 85 per cent of people killed in natural disasters between 2000 and 2009 worldwide. In 2008 the figure was 98 per cent. The poorest segments of society remain the most vulnerable and natural disasters represent a significant obstacle to achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in the region.
Asia and the Pacific also accounted for a third of the world’s ongoing conflicts in 2010 — the highest of any single region . The majority of these conflicts were of low intensity and contained within individual countries such as Indonesia, the Solomon Islands and Lao PDR. Asia and the Pacific was also home to a higher number of medium- and high-intensity conflicts than that of sub-Saharan Africa. These included Myanmar, Thailand, the Philippines and India. These conflicts contributed toward about 4.6 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the region, approximately 16 per cent of the global total in 2010.
On a positive note, some conflicts have finally ended, notably the 26-year civil war in Sri Lanka and the 10-year civil war in Nepal. However, many countries in the region continue to face long-term challenges relating to poverty, unresolved land ownership and ethnic or religious marginalization that can affect men, women and children in profoundly different ways.
Asia and the Pacific is also increasingly exposed to new and emerging threats. The risk of a severe influenza pandemic has not diminished. Conditions in the region make it the most probable flash point for new and potentially deadly pandemic virus mutations. Climate change poses another considerable challenge. By the 2050s, freshwater availability in large parts of Asia, particularly in large river basins, is projected to decrease . Heavily populated mega-delta regions in South, East and South-East Asia are expected to be at great risk of increased flooding. Elsewhere, food security is threatened due to the potential impact of drought, often related to deforestation. The threat of technological disasters, some triggered by major natural hazards such as the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, poses another significant challenge.
An expected rise in sea levels is threatening vital infrastructure, settlements and livelihoods in the region. By midcentury, climate change is projected to reduce water resources in many small islands to the point where they become insufficient to meet demand during low-rainfall periods. Communicating the challenges faced by Pacific Island States will remain a key focus, including the cost and logistical constraints of assisting isolated island populations.
Growing National and Regional Capacity
During recent decades, the region has experienced rapid economic growth. Significant progress has been made in disaster management, addressing development challenges and towards achieving several MDGs, including those focused on alleviating poverty and extending education, health care and access to clean water.
Due to growing resources, regional Member States are also playing an increasingly important role as providers of bilateral and, to a lesser extent, multilateral assistance. Existing and emerging donors in the region are set to assume a more prominent global role, both politically and as a potential source of humanitarian funding. Some economists estimate Asia’s share of world GDP (26 per cent) to be on a par with the European Union and the United States, and is forecast to reach 36 per cent by 2030 . Already, OCHA is refining its strategy for closer partnerships with a number of key countries.
Implications of Regional Trends
The capacity to respond to natural disasters is growing in many countries. However, other factors (such as urbanization) are increasing exposure to natural hazards. This poses a major challenge regionally and threatens to undermine developmental progress. There is an opportunity to learn from successful cases in the region where strengthened disaster-response capacities and community-level mitigation measures have reduced vulnerability despite increased exposure to natural hazards.
Partnership with National Governments
Increasingly, national governments appear willing to take the lead in disaster response. This, coupled with political and other factors, is prompting the need to review the role of international response tools in the region. Formal requests for international assistance are becoming less frequent. In line with the efforts of the Red Cross International Disaster Response Law project, there is a need to engage with crisis-prone countries prior to disasters, ensuring they are better able to request international assistance in a timely and legally appropriate manner.
There is a growing acceptance of international humanitarian support where the UN and IASC members can augment national capacities in a discreet fashion. The broad acceptance of the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) is a positive example of this trend and can help facilitate dialogue between humanitarian actors. In 2010, CERF allocated $54.8 million, representing 13.2 per cent of worldwide funding, to support response efforts in Asia and the Pacific. Disaster responses also provide opportunities for international humanitarian teams to work alongside Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) counterparts and contribute to relationship-building.
Relevance of International Tools
In the Asia and Pacific environments, the emphasis is moving away from providing external support during a crisis. It is moving towards strengthening partnerships at the country and regional levels and supporting governments and regional organizations to be better prepared. To be accepted in times of crisis, international response tools must be perceived to support national efforts. GA resolution 46/182 outlines the responsibility of governments to play the leading role in providing assistance to their affected population. International humanitarian assistance capacity therefore needs to be inclusive, responsive and flexible so that assistance can be dovetailed with, rather than provided parallel to, national efforts.
Regional Capacity for Preparedness and Response
In addition to improving conditions for a large portion of the region’s population, rapid development has resulted in substantial progress on strengthening disaster preparedness and national response capacity. Member States covered by ROAP have established national disaster management authorities (NDMAs), charged with building capacity and coordinating domestic response activities. This development is coupled with growing military capacity for, and involvement in, disaster response throughout the region.
Capacity of Regional Bodies
Regional cooperation in Asia and the Pacific is still in the early stages of development. Bilateral aid remains dominant, with only a small part of overseas development assistance being directed through multilateral channels. Cooperation on disaster management is seen as an important avenue to develop stronger regional relationships.
Several regional bodies are of significance to OCHA and the humanitarian community as actual, or potential, partners for sub-regional coordination of disaster management and emergency response efforts These include ASEAN and its main body for regional dialogue — the ASEAN Regional Forum and the SAARC. In the Pacific, key bodies include the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) and the Pacific Islands Applied Geo-science Commission (SOPAC), which has been integrated into the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC). Also of increasing significance is the East Asia Summit, for which Australia has made clear its aspirations regarding disaster management. However, the strengthening of this forum into a meaningful regional body is likely to take a long time.
Regional entities are seeking a greater role in mobilizing and coordinating disaster responses within their region, including developing operational capacity. In response to Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar, ASEAN deployed an Emergency Rapid Assessment Team (ERAT), established the Humanitarian Task Force and Tripartite Core Group (TCG) and was directly involved in humanitarian projects in the cyclone-affected area.
An additional example of this greater role becomes clear when studying recent developments among ASEAN member states. The ASEAN Agreement on Disaster Management and Emergency Response (AADMER) came into force on 24 December 2009, after being ratified by all 10 Member States. AADMER provides the sub-region’s first regional disaster management framework. It contains provisions on disaster risk identification; monitoring and early warning; prevention and mitigation; preparedness and response; rehabilitation, technical cooperation and research; coordination mechanisms; and simplified customs and immigration procedures.
An ambitious AADMER implementation workplan that seeks to operationalize the agreement is currently underway. Key mechanisms that ASEAN is currently developing include the ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance, which “facilitates co-operation and coordination among the parties, and with relevant United Nations and international organizations, in promoting regional collaboration”, and ERAT teams that perform a similar function to UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination teams. Much of AADMER’s operational framework is captured in ASEAN’s Standard Operating Procedure for Regional Standby Arrangements and Coordination of Joint Disaster Relief and Emergency Response Operations, also known as the SASOPs.
Although the capacity of regional entities to take the lead in humanitarian response coordination is largely untried, OCHA has a clear role in supporting and helping to guide these initiatives. During the UN-ASEAN Summit in October 2010, a joint statement by the Secretaries-General of the UN and ASEAN called for coordinated UN support to ASEAN. ROAP is playing a key role in taking this work forward through its co-chair role in the Regional Coordination Mechanism, its Secretariat function for the regional IASC Network and participation in the Regional Directors Team (RDT).
In the Pacific, countries such as the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and the Federated States of Micronesia, are likely to require support to develop and sustain individual national capacities in key areas of disaster management. Disaster-response capacities are spread across the region and are often led by major regional powers such as Australia and New Zealand, making regional cooperation essential. Key partnerships with regional bodies continue to bolster the ongoing OCHA-initiated process of regional inter-agency contingency planning for humanitarian assistance. They include PIF, SOPAC, the FRANZ Group (formed by the Governments of France, Australia and New Zealand), Pacific Emergency Management Training Advisory Group and SPC on emergency training, civil-military coordination and Urban Search and Rescue.
EM-DAT; ISDR “2010 Disasters in Numbers”
Heidelberg Institute, Conflict Barometer 2010
IPCC Climate Change Synthesis Report 2007
Real Projected GDP Shares and Growth Rates of GDP Shares, US Agricultural Service, 2009
ROAP covers 36 Member States in Asia/Pacific. This includes four countries in which OCHA has a Country Office (Philippines, Myanmar, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka).