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Asean 'dragging its feet' in curbing disaster risk

Many could die needlessly as a result, NGO's say

APG Indonesia chief Tanty Surya Thamrin APG Indonesia chief Tanty Surya Thamrin
  • Ryan Dagur, Jakarta
  • Indonesia
  • May 3, 2013
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Members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations are dragging their feet in implementing an agreement to curb disaster risks in the region, according to international NGO’s that form the ASEAN Partnership Group (APG).

Many lives could be lost as a result, they say. 

The ASEAN Agreement on Disaster Management and Emergency Response (AADMER) was established eight years ago, but little progress has been made so far, APG representatives said during a discussion on the agreement in Jakarta on Thursday.

Representatives from Oxfam, Humanitarian Forum Indonesia, ChildFund International, Plan International, and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN-OCHA) attended the discussion.

"Not all ASEAN governments open themselves to work together. There is an impression that some countries are completely passive," said Surya Tanty Thamrin, head of APG Indonesia.

AADMER was ratified by the 10-member bloc in 2005 and four years later it began work on providing a mechanism that will reduce loss of life and property resulting from disasters across the region.

It also facilitates disaster response at national and regional levels, and is intended to intensify international cooperation.

AADMER also saw the establishment of the ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on Disaster Management (AHA Centre) which is based in Jakarta. Its mission is to coordinate activities under the agreement.

However, according Thamrin, there has been little or no intensive communication or coordination among national leaders on this matter.

"So when disaster strikes, the AHA Centre will struggle to perform effectively and determine what to do,” she said.

“It shows the difficulty in coordinating a comprehensive partnership among ASEAN members.”

Titi Moektijasih, an OCHA humanitarian affairs analyst said the lack of governmental action has prevented AADMER achieving its goals.

"Instead, members of APG are taking the lead," she said.

Surya Rahman Muhammad from the Humanitarian Forum Indonesia said AADMER’s slow progress highlights a lack of solidarity among ASEAN nations in times of disaster.

"When the Bhopa disaster hit the Philippines, we were right on it, as we were when the Rohinghya conflict erupted in Myanmar. NGOs work faster than governments," he said.

Sometimes political considerations become an obstacle for governments to take immediate action, he pointed out. It’s different with NGOs, which can move quickly without being hindered by complex bureaucracy.

For example in the case of Rohinghya, ASEAN governments refrained from distributing aid, to avoid a potential row with the Myanmar government, Muhammad added.

AADMER’s objectives have to be reassessed and optimized to improve cooperation among these countries, which are now geared towards the realization of the ASEAN Community in 2015, he said.

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