PostHeaderIcon Co-Chairmen's Report of the Second ARF Inter-Sessional Meeting on Disaster Relief, Bangkok, 18-20 February 1998

Co-Chairmen's Report of the Second ARF Inter-Sessional Meeting on Disaster Relief
Bangkok, 18-20 February 1998

 

1. As agreed by Ministers at the Fourth ASEAN Regional Forum in Malaysia, on 27 July 1997, the Second ARF Inter-sessional Meeting on Disaster Relief was held on 18-20 February 1998 in Bangkok, Thailand. The Meeting was organized by Thailand and New Zealand, and Co-chaired by Dr. Sukhum Rasmidatta, Deputy Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Thailand, and Mr. Win Cochrane, Director of the South/Southeast Asia Division of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade of New Zealand.

2. The Meeting was attended by 20 ARF members. The United Nations Development Progamme(UNDP), the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the World Health Organization (WHO), the ASEAN Secretariat and the Asian Disaster Preparedness Center (ADPC) participated as resource persons and guest speakers. The Meeting welcomed in particular delegates from the Lao People's Democratic Republic and Cambodia, which participated for the first time. As with the 1st ISM-DR, various countries were represented by their Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Defence as well as additional agencies involved in disaster management, which allowed for a valuable interchange of experience in the subject area. A list of participants is attached as Annex A, and contact points as Annex B.

3. The Meeting adopted the agenda which is attached as Annex C. The programme of the Meeting is attached as Annex D.

4. The Meeting was opened by H.E. M.R. Sukhumbhand Paribatra, Acting Minister of Foreign Affairs of Thailand. In his Keynote Address, the Acting Minister of Foreign Affairs commended the activities of the ARF Inter-sessional Meeting on Disaster Relief, noting that they contributed towards confidence-building, and constituted a concrete manifestation of the ARF countries' will to cooperate on matters of common interest affecting the comprehensive security of states. He expressed the hope that ARF activities in this field could complement those of ASEAN and other existing bodies and avoid duplication so as to provide an impetus for a more structured framework for formulating regional responses to disasters. He was confident that the activities of the ISM-DR would serve to strengthen the institutional vitality of the ARF process as well as assist in the fulfillment of the objectives of the United Nations International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction 1990-2000 (IDNDR).

5. The Meeting was held in plenary. During the course of the Meeting, a field trip was made to the Royal Thai Army's Engineer Department, Ratchaburi Province. The delegates were briefed on the activities of the Royal Thai Army in delivering disaster relief and shown a demonstration of disaster relief techniques.

Item 1. Review of the 1st ISM-DR and General Exchange of Views

6. New Zealand briefed the Meeting on the results of the 1st ISM-DR, and in particular the recommendations of the Wellington Meeting. The Mecting agreed that the recommendations of the Wellington Meeting provided the basis for discussion and steps should be taken to implement its recommendations.

Item 2. Further Exchange of Views on National, Sub-regional and Regional Delivery of Disaster Relief

7. A number of countries gave presentations on their national experiences and the national defivery mechanisms for dealing with disasters. Participants agreed that such exchange of information was in itself a useful confidence-building measure. In particular, many participants pointed to the role of defence establishments in national efforts and the importance of civil-military coordination. In discussing sub-regional and regional delivery of disaster relief, the Meeting highlighted the role and experience of existing regional organizations such as ASEAN, in particular the activities of the ASEAN Expert Group on Disaster Management (AEGDM). The Meeting was briefed on the concept of using Military and Civil Defence Assets (MCDA) in disaster relief in the Asia-Pacific region and on proposals to enhance cooperation on disaster preparedness within the framework of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum (APEC).

Item 3. Cooperation in Enhancing Regional Disaster Preparedness

8. Noting the recommendations of the 1st ISM-DR on the usefulness of building upon existing national and regional institutions within the ARF area, such as the ADPC and various national bodies in different countries, the Meeting had an extensive exchanae of views on how best to achieve optimum synergy. While stressing the importance of avoiding duplication, participants underlined the importance of sharing expertise and organizing joint activities. However, participants also recognized the need to further enhance local preparedness to better support wider efforts.

9. Participants emphasized the need for enhancement of early warning capabilities on emergencies such as earthquakes, floods and severe storms. Canada, the European Union, Japan and the United States provided briefings on their efforts to enhance disaster preparedness and ability to provide assistance in the regional context. The IFRC, UNDP and UNOCHA gave comprehensive presentations on their capabilities and resources at their disposal to assist Asia-Pacific countries in disaster management. The ADPC gave a briefing on its capacity to play a focal role as technical support unit to the ARF in the areas of training, information exchange and dissemination strategic planning, disaster management programme and protocol development.

Item 4. Enhancement of Operational Delivery of Disaster Relief in the Region

10. There was a further exchange of information on existing sub-regional cooperation in delivering disaster relief. The usefulness of developing common approaches to disaster management was considered. In this regard, the Meeting underlined the importance of better coordination to facilitate the exchanoe of information in a neutral fashion and help reduce delays in providing a regional response to emergency situations. The Meeting agreed that specific areas of national expertise and national centres of excellence should be identified so as to further promote the sharing of expertise among the participants.

11. A case study presentation was made on the subject of regional responses to the haze problem in Southeast Asia in late 1997 as a recent example of a regional disaster affecting many ARF countries. The Meeting agreed that given the seriousness of its impact on local environments and ecologies, early coordination of information and responses would be valuable on similar situations occurring in the future. An exchange of views was held on the most appropriate mechanisms for coordinating such activities. The Meeting welcomed the contributions of various countries and organizations in helping to resolve this problem, including ASEAN's Regional Haze Reduction Action Plan, ADPC's sponsorship of the El Nino Conference on 2-6 February 1998, and the United States' Southeast Asian Environment Initiative.

Item 5. Future Directions of ARF Disaster Relief Activities

12. The Meeting confirmed its belief that cooperation on all aspects of disaster management contributes significantly to the ARF's goal of regional confidence building.

13. The Meeting considered that the ARF at Ministerial and Senior Officials levels should continue to give overall direction for further action in this field, including a decision to hold a future ISM-DR, for which an offer was received from the Russian Federation to co-host a third session in Moscow.

14. The Meeting arrived at a broad consensus on the following:

>  In furthering the recommendations from the Wellington Meeting, endorsed by the Fourth APF Ministerial Meeting in Malaysia, particular attention should be given to:

·         training and technical cooperation to further develop national disaster management capabilities;

·         the development of early warning systems with consideration being given to improving access to existing early warning information; and

·         the development of a regional disaster relief capabilities database.

§  Offers to support these and other activities were made by the EU, Japan, the Russian Federation, the United States, IFRC, UNDP, UNOCHA and ADPC.

§  The Meeting considered these offers to be valuable, and that they deserved a more detailed evaluation by government officials and experts.

§  The Meeting stressed the importance of bilateral, sub-regional and multilateral cooperation on disaster management.

§  The exchance of information and informal networking could continue, although the need for better coordination and a greater awareness of existing information resources was recognized.

.  To consider these proposals, there was general support for the formation of an ARF Disaster Relief Expert Group. The work of this Group would include the evaluation of the offers and the modalities of any subsequent recommendations made, and the reporting of its findings in time for consideration by the ARF SOM in 1999.

15. The Meeting welcomed the offer by the ADPC to hold a Workshop on Disaster Management later in 1998. The United States offered to provide funding for such a workshop, which could involve participation of civilian and military disaster managers. The workshop might include topics such as appropriate roles and responsibilities of responders, as well as principles, concepts and terminology of disaster management. The Meeting further considered that the organization of other relevant training courses could be proposed by interested countries.

16. The Meeting was of the view that future joint and combined military exercises, whether bilateral or multilateral, undertaken by ARF participants should, as appropriate, incorporate disaster relief activities. Cooperation among the military, and between civilian and military disaster responders, was also regarded as desirable in such areas as information exchanges to explore the possibility of formulating common operational procedures, as well as exchanges of training, seminars and study tours.

17. The Meeting noted that cooperation and exchanges to enhance early warning capabilities and improving preparedness for such emergencies as droughts, earthquakes, floods and severe storms were valuable. In this regard, the involvement of international organizations such as the World Meteorological Organization in developing such regional capabilities and information sharing was considered important.

18. The Meeting considered that informal networking among the participants should be further promoted pending final decision being taken on the modalities for future cooperation.

Acknowledgements

19. The Meeting thanked Thailand and New Zealand for co-chairing the ISM-DR over the past two years and ensuring that the activities of ISM-DR made a concrete and lasting contribution to furthering cooperation and enhancing confidence among the ARF countries.