Preparedness is key to resilience, say top Asia-Pacific crisis managers - ESCAP working for Asia-Pacific framework on resilience

Discussion on Towards resilient coastal communities: Results and opportunities for regional cooperation (ESCAP trust Fund for Tsunami, Disasters and Climate Preparedness) at Conference Room 4, United Nations Conference Centre, Bangkok, 30 April 2013.

Preparedness for multiple shocks, particularly natural disasters and economic crises, must be central to development planning in Asia and the Pacific which confronts the growing threat of increasingly severe natural calamities and economic crises, top disaster managers told countries from the region gathered at a United Nations forum here this week.

Prominent natural disaster and economic crisis management experts from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Indonesia, Pakistan and the Philippines speaking at the Ministerial Roundtable on Building Resilience to Natural Disasters and Major Economic Crises on the second day of the 69th Session of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) agreed that resilience is based on preparation.

Addressing the twin crises, Dr. Noeleen Heyzer, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Secretary of ESCAP stressed: “First and foremost, governments must invest in prevention and preparedness—it is far more effective and less costly than recovery efforts. This can be as straightforward as updating building codes and retrofitting unsafe buildings, or as far-reaching as coordinating regional monetary policies.”

On the economic side, “Policymakers must balance short-term macroeconomic stability with long-term development. In the midst of a crisis or disaster, we can ill-afford to mechanically apply the conventional norms of macroeconomic stabilization. We need an Asia-Pacific regional framework for resilience,” she added.

The roundtable, webcast live, was guided by a new ESCAP study which finds multiple shocks occurring with increased frequency and converging in new ways.

“A clear conclusion is that risk reduction is now a development imperative,” said Lt. Gen (Retired) Nadeem Ahmed, former Chairman, National Disaster Management Authority, Pakistan who won praise for his coordination of relief efforts following the devastating 2005 earthquake and 2010 floods.

Honorable Richard Gordon, Chairman and CEO of the Philippines Red Cross, stressed the important role of local communities and local governments. “People must always be part of the process of change. Empowering people through their active involvement in local decision-making processes enables them to take the lead in disaster mitigation,” he said. Reinforcing this, he noted that in the Philippines, “Disaster risk reduction laws also empower local governments to spend money before a disaster strikes….so that communities can better predict, plan, prepare and practice for a disaster.”

The panelists also noted the important role of regional cooperation in building resilience to natural disasters and economic crises.

Dr. Surin Pitsuwan, former Secretary-General of ASEAN, spoke about the groundbreaking tripartite partnership between the Government of Myanmar, ASEAN and the United Nations following Cyclone Nargis in 2008. In highlighting the role that regional cooperation played in opening Myanmar to international humanitarian assistance, he noted: “Every crisis – political, manmade or natural – offers us an opportunity to grow, to mature and to collaborate with each other. The regional approach is extremely effective if you do it right, and the sum of all our separate efforts have much more value through regional arrangements.”

Dr. William Sabander, Special Assistant of the President of Indonesia, who was Director of the Indonesian Agency for Post-Tsunami Reconstruction of Aceh and Nias following the December 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami recalled how the worst natural disaster in Asia-Pacific increased the urgency for setting up strong institutions on disaster management. “Political commitment to disaster reduction is critical. Disaster management should be part of the development framework, policies, programmes and budget.”

The panel also discussed the role of government and international financial institutions during economic and financial shocks.

Former Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy, Dr. Rizal Ramli, spoke about Indonesia’s experience in developing long-term solutions to the 1997 financial crisis that hit the region, and noted that countries “Must apply solutions that take into account political and social realities on the ground.” He also added that, “policy solutions must limit the spread of shocks to the real economy and the poor, instead of trying to fix everything at once. Countries must analyze the situation and prescribe solutions based on their own unique situation.”
In his closing remarks, the Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations, Mr. Jan Eliasson, issued an urgent call to protect the poor and vulnerable during natural disasters and economic crises. “The poorest are the most vulnerable during disasters, and we see that all over the world. We must build back better so we are better prepared for the next time.” He added that, “We definitely need to make disaster risk reduction part of the development paradigm and the post 2015 development agenda…and reach out to the private sector, civil society, academia and the scientific world.”