Meeting on Post-Nargis Recovery and Livelihood Opportunities in Myanmar

ESCAP, ASEAN bring together experts to discuss future steps for recovery assistance to Myanmar

Six months after Cyclone Nargis struck Myanmar, key partners in the country’s recovery process gathered in Bangkok to assess how to best strengthen their joint efforts to support inclusive and sustainable recovery there.

The two-day Regional High-level Expert Group Meeting on Post-Nargis recovery and Livelihood Opportunities in Myanmar was organized by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) and the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), with the support of the Government of the Union of Myanmar. It brought together high-ranking Myanmar Government officials and representatives of ASEAN, ESCAP and other UN and international partners, as well as experts with experience in dealing with such recent disasters in the region as the 2004 Asian Tsunami, the 2005 Pakistan earthquake, and the 2007 Cyclone Sidr in Bangladesh. The high-level commitment to this dialogue was reflected in the opening statements by ESCAP’s Executive Secretary, Under-Secretary-General Noeleen Heyzer, ASEAN’s Secretary-General, Dr. Surin Pitsuwan, and the Myanmar Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs, U Kyaw Thu.

“I believe this is an opportunity for those who are involved in the post-Nargis recovery efforts to learn from the experience, although painfully gained, of those who have been on a similar path in order to put together a comprehensive and effective early-, medium- and long-term strategy,” said Myanmar’s Deputy Minister U Kyaw Thu, who is also the Chairman of the Tripartite Core Group (TCG), formed by the UN, ASEAN and the Myanmar Government for the purpose of coordinating relief efforts in the wake of the cyclone.

“I hope that with ESCAP, and with experts here from Pakistan, Indonesia, Bangladesh and other various international agencies, UN and non-UN, we can together enhance the capacity of the region, to add on to the lessons that we have learnt and translate the lessons into practical procedures,” said Dr. Pitsuwan, in his keynote address, adding, “if we are not prepared, we will be in deeper trouble the next time around.”

Under-Secretary-General Heyzer, in noting the toll that Cyclone Nargis had taken on Myanmar, indicated that the expert group meeting represented a turning point in the partnership of the UN and ASEAN with the Myanmar Government. “This experts’ group meeting should be seen as a stepping stone to move beyond discussing Nargis-related recovery strategies to a wider discussion on the future development direction for Myanmar as a whole,” she said.

Ms. Heyzer highlighted that the meeting was timely, and hoped that its outcomes would feed into the Post-Nargis Recovery and Preparedness Plan (PONREPP), the ongoing TCG Periodic Review, and the ASEAN-UN Summit to be held in Thailand in mid-December. ESCAP, as the UN system’s regional liaison for the meeting, is working with the Government of Thailand – the current chair of ASEAN – to finalize the Summit agenda in the coming weeks.

The expert group meeting followed visits in May and June by Ms. Heyzer to Myanmar, during which Government representatives and the UN Country Team welcomed the idea of ESCAP, as part of the advisory group to the ASEAN Humanitarian Task Force and the regional development arm of the United Nations, convening a series of regional expert group meetings and policy dialogues on issues of recovery and reconstruction in post-Nargis Myanmar.

This first meeting provided a regional-level platform to learn from the experiences of regional and international policy experts so that the best practices emerging from recent disasters in the Asia-Pacific region could inform the medium- and long-term post-Nargis recovery strategies, particularly on issues of disaster risk reduction, sustainable settlement policies, livelihood recovery strategies, and restoring economic and social infrastructure. The meeting also provided a space for Nargis recovery partners to develop a consensus on priorities and strategies for effectively moving from relief efforts to recovery and longer-term economic and social development, including for mobilizing greater technical and financial support. Speaking at the meeting’s session on settlement plans and country experiences, the Deputy for Donor and International Relations at the Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Agency for Aceh and Nias, Mr. Heru Prasetyo, shared critical lessons from the Aceh tsunami reconstruction effort, stressing that “there is a need for continuous coordination of funding, programmes and resources, as well as ongoing monitoring, accountability and public communication.”
Taking into account the lessons learnt – and shared at the meeting – by the representatives from Aceh, Bangladesh, Pakistan and other countries which have dealt with the effects of previous natural disasters, the meeting’s participants agreed that it was particularly important to focus on a number of principles to guide the implementation of recovery activities. These included, amongst others, the need for all recovery efforts to aim to “build back better” and more safely with a community-based approach in order to reduce future disaster risks; and the need for disaster risk reduction to be an essential pillar of a recovery programme so that it becomes an integral part of a holistic multi-disciplinary approach to disaster management.

Noting the valuable assessments and lessons learned presented regarding recovery mechanisms and programmes implemented in response to the disasters that afflicted Aceh, Bangladesh and Pakistan, Ms. Heyzer said that this experience of the Asia-Pacific region would undoubtedly contribute to the formulation of recovery strategies for Myanmar and other future natural disasters. While an effective early warning mechanism is one critical part of any sound disaster management approach, she emphasized that early action was also needed in order to turn early warning into real disaster preparedness.

Referring to the interest expressed by Myanmar representatives in field visits to engage in further consultations with experts in the region, which ESCAP stood ready to support, Ms. Heyzer indicated that ESCAP would also address ways to better capture and institutionalize these experiences and lessons learned as part of a knowledge-based system that can be quickly accessed, and which could facilitate the mobilization of expert teams to provide better assistance.

Ms. Heyzer, in response to participants’ positive feedback on the value of this regional dialogue session and the spirit of partnership fostered, said that ESCAP was committed to continue to host such dialogues in partnership, and that the next would be held with donors so as to encourage increased assistance to fill critical funding gaps.

In his closing remarks, Myanmar’s Deputy Minister U Kyaw Thu highlighted that “we have again found ourselves at crucial crossroads” nearly six months after Cyclone Nargis hit the Ayeyarwady delta, and that the reason for this important regional meeting was “to concentrate our knowledge and experience to outline a set of commitments and actions to boost early recovery efforts and bridge the gap between reliance and self-sufficiency for the affected populations of the Cyclone Nargis.”

“Asia has always been a focal hub for world knowledge,” the Deputy Minister continued, adding that he was “engrossed by [the participants’] rich experience and compelling expertise, especially in managing and dealing with the recent natural disasters that have happened in our region.”

“I am grateful for your enthusiasm and total commitment in supporting the people in the Delta to recover from their worst nightmare and offer them hope,” he said, and expressed his gratitude to ESCAP and ASEAN for their cooperation and organization of the two-day meeting. “I believe the meeting’s objectives have been successfully met – and even go beyond expectations.”