United Nations and ASEAN Raise Awareness of Need for Safer Communities Amid Natural Disasters

Raising awareness of the need for safer communities in the Asia-Pacific region was the aim of the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) during their joint observance of the International Day for Disaster Reduction and the ASEAN Day for Disaster Management.

Held in Bangkok on Wednesday, 8 October, the observance heard messages from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and ASEAN Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan, delivered by Shigeru Mochida, the Deputy Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), and Adelina Kamal, the Assistant Director for Disaster Management at the ASEAN Secretariat, respectively.

In their messages, the Secretaries-General drew attention to the increasing number and scale of natural disasters in the recent past, involving the loss of thousands of lives and rendering hundreds of thousands homeless and jobless – and the need for action to be taken now.

“We must do more to turn commitments on paper into deeds that can keep the next major disaster from taking so many lives and destroying so many livelihoods,” said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. “Now more than ever, when we are trying to accelerate national and international efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, disaster risk reduction needs to be acknowledged and incorporated as a key plank of that work.”

He added that with this year’s Wenchuan Earthquake and Cyclone Nargis still fresh in people’s minds, it was all the more appropriate to recall the lessons learned.

“These disasters are stark reminders that we are still a long way from achieving our target of having a disaster resilient and safer community by the year 2015,” said Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan, in his message. “All of us have a role to play in mitigating the impact of disasters and building the resilience of our infrastructure and communities to disaster.”

The observance ceremony also marked the conclusion of an ASEAN Regional Drawing Competition on “Safer Community: Hospital, School and House of My Dream.” Aiming to increase awareness among school children in ASEAN Member Countries on their communities’ vulnerabilities to disasters and the importance of building safe hospitals, schools and houses, the competition was jointly organised by the ASEAN Committee on Disaster Management and UNISDR. Children aged 8-15 years of age from ASEAN Member States were invited to express – through drawings and paintings – how safe hospitals, schools and houses can contribute to realizing ASEAN’s vision of a disaster resilient and safer community.

The winners of the competition were 11-year-old Thirawat Chumthong (1st place) from Thailand, 14-year-old Vicente Tiu Tangcueco (2nd place) from the Philippines, 13-year-old Jamille Bianca T. Aguilar (3rd place) from the Philippines, 10-year-old Alyarosa Taqwaariva (4th place) from Indonesia and 10-year-old Khairil Anwar Bin Jumat (5th place) from Brunei Darussalam.

“My drawing reflects my family’s dream of hospitals, schools and houses that are safe from natural disasters,” said Thirawat Chumthong, when asked about the idea behind his drawing. “However, this condition is only in my dream as in reality, we are faced with a lot of natural disasters such as tsunamis, earthquakes, typhoons, etc.” The award ceremony was followed by a discussion on the subject of "Community safety and disaster resilient infrastructures in the Asia Pacific region." The session was moderated by the UNISDR’s Senior Regional Coordinator, Dr. German Velasquez.

Representatives from the World Health Organization, the Asian Disaster Preparedness Centre and Thailand’s Ministry of Public Health led the discussions and emphasised the role resilient infrastructures play not only in saving lives but also in the continuation of provision of life-saving services in the face of a disaster.

Wednesday’s observance of the International Day for Disaster Reduction and the ASEAN Day for Disaster Management was the third time that ASEAN and UNISDR have partnered in marking the Days.