Asian Journal of Environment and Disaster Management (AJEDM)

Volume 1 Number 1 (2009)

doi: 10.3850/S179392402009000143

From Cyclones, Earthquakes, Droughts to Tsunamis: How Can Asia Learn?

Jemilah Mahmood
Asian Disaster Reduction and Response Network, c/oMERCY Malaysia,
Kompleks Dayabumi Podium Block, Jalan Sultan Hishamuddin,
11216 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.


As Myanmar and China mark the first anniversary of Cyclone Nargis and Wenchuan earthquake respectively, the Philippines braces for the typhoon season with already 43 killed and more than 170,000 people displaced from their homes due to Typhoon Chan in North Luzon. In India, hail stones the size of golf balls rained on an otherwise hot New Delhi and Orissa faces one of the hottest seasons in recent times.

Asia is the most disaster prone region in the world and equally vulnerable to climate change. It is for this reason that the knowledge which is indigenous to the people of Asia needs to be captured and documented, while the national and local approaches to disaster management lead to the scaling up of activities in ensuring communities are not only well prepared to respond but resilience is enhanced.

While it took a tsunami to capture the attention and commitment to the Kobe Conference in 2005 and subsequent ratification of the Hyogo Framework for Action,wemust not wait till anothermajor disaster andmore lives and livelihoods are lost.

The Asian Disaster Reduction and Response Network (ADRRN) established in 2002was an endeavor to bring together practitioners of disastermanagement from the region. It aims to encourage sharing of knowledge, expertise, best practices and equally important, to advocate for the people who are at the forefront of disasters, especially the affected population.Membership grows steadily and currently there are 34 members from non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and civil society organizations (CSOs) as well as associate members from various academic and research institutions, UN agencies and international NGOs.

Over the years, there have been many good practices shown by the network. Following the IndianOcean Tsunami in 2004, one of the founding agenciesMERCY Malaysia was at the forefront of response and leading to recovery in Aceh, Indonesia. Adamant on rebuilding better houses and health facilities for the people of Aceh,MERCYMalaysiawas supported by partner agencies including theNational Society for Earthquake Technology in Nepal (NSET), SEEDS India and Kyoto University School for Global and Environmental Studies. The first ever "Rebuilding AcehWorkshop" was conducted as early as April 2005. This brought together local government and municipal leaders, local engineers and members of the Faculty of Engineering of Syiah Kuala University, other NGOs, UN agencies, local contractors, masons, local communities including the affected population to better understand the need for building codes, proper techniques for rebuilding, retrofitting and risk reduction.

A mason and engineer from NSET worked shoulder to shoulder with MERCY Malaysia staff and local masons, many of whom were from the affected community in a "Masons' Training Program". The sharing of knowledge and involvement of beneficiary communities, in particular women and children, in demonstrations of the "Shake Table Test" further emphasized the understanding and desire for a home to be built back better. In September 2005, MERCY Malaysia thanks to support from its partners, delivered the first 250 retrofitted houses to its beneficiaries, complete with an evacuation plan and route and disaster awareness campaigns, barely nine months after the Indian Ocean Tsunami.

Through ADRRN, traditional folk tales like the infamous Japanese "Inamura no hi" were adapted and translated into 8 Asian languages and French, sharing the lessons of early warning and preparedness to thousands of vulnerable coastal communities in Asia and East Africa.

Similarly, SEEDS India worked in partnershipwith the Coordination of Afghan Relief Organizations (CoAR) to strengthen the latter's capacity in areas of disaster risk reduction. Several other practices of knowledge sharing and partnership were experienced among network members, with one remarkable national NGO MingalarMyanmar, being developed and empowered by ADRRN members to deliver disaster risk reduction training for the people of Myanmar until today.

What this points to is that while "southern" national and local NGOs are often looked at as organizations that need to have their "capacities built" by larger (international) NGOs and other organizations, there is in fact a wealth of expertise which is available and unselfishly shared among Asian born NGOs. This is an important step forward for Asian NGOs and CSOs. Who would understand context and culture better than the very people that make up this vulnerable region?

The recent experiences in Myanmar and Sudan, demonstrate the increased flexing of muscles of sovereign states to redefine the terms upon which humanitarian assistance is provided, thus undermining humanitarian space and principles. This is a possible trend that all humanitarian workers and those working in the disaster related field should be aware of it only makes it imperative that active measures are undertaken to further develop the national and local capacities to prepare, respond and prevent disasters as well as adapt to the now indisputable effects of climate change. This requires a mindset change and commitment — not the rhetoric exclaimed time and again in the comfort of international workshops and conference rooms.

Thus it is with much pleasure that Asia sees the birth of this Asian Journal of Environment and Disaster Management. It is hoped that practitioners from Asia will not only share their vast experience and knowledge but accelerate the culture of research and learning in this region.

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