Natural Disasters: Response to Hazards and Climate Change ?
By ANANT MISHRA [Former Youth Representative to United Nations]
New Delhi: Southeast Asia has traditionally suffered over 50% of the world’s natural disasters. Flooding, earthquakes, and landslides have been commonplace. With global warming, these have become more commonplace, with the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami being the most severe tsunami in over 500 years. Monsoons have been growing worse due to the occurrence of freak storms, and nations like Myanmar and Vietnam have suffered massive damage from these monsoons. Additionally, nations like Indonesia lie on the Pacific Ring of Fire, meaning volcanic eruptions are commonplace.
Motivated by the ideals of preventing conflict and avoiding exacerbated foreign intervention in the Southeast Asian region and forged on the principles that would later be known as “the ASEAN way” (consisting of consensual decision making, flexibility and mutual consultation), Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand founded the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 1967, which at its inception had no supranational elements and aimed at fostering cooperation in the region in a volunteer way, having no official binding commitment between the member States.
Success and failure of efforts
Since the 2004 tsunami and Cyclone Nargis, ASEAN has realised that there is a serious need to coordinate NGO efforts when natural disasters have struck. For example, after Cyclone Nargis, governments and NGOs spent a lot of time getting permission from the Burmese government to be even allowed in the country. Furthermore, NGOs often competed against each other and carved up disaster zones, severely limiting the effectiveness of relief. The AHA Centre has been a partial success. In the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan it was able to coordinate efforts to some extent but was quickly overwhelmed by the amount of aid provided. Nations like the USA, the UK, and Japan sent so much aid that ASEAN efforts were unable to coordinate them all. Additionally, governments have cut their own budgets for disaster relief, meaning that more of the slack will have to be taken by ASEAN.
The main issue
Given how sporadic natural disasters are, governments often cut their budgets as they cannot justify spending money on prevention. This leads to disasters, when they happen, being even more costly and damaging, causing more expensive to clear up. Furthermore, there is often a serious lack of communication between governments and NGOs, leading to issues, as were seen during the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis. Additionally, governments tend not to like having NGOs coming around as they fear they will take over the operations. This tends to arrest aid efforts. Furthermore, the issue of climate change is a major one, as it is almost certain that action will need to be taken to curtail climate change. However, such actions could hurt industry and stop urban development, which would have serious implications for economic development.
Many governments dislike working with NGOs due to concerns about national sovereignty. Therefore, many governments restrict what NGOs can do. However, ASEAN has no such inhibitions, meaning that while the AHA calls for more cooperation with NGOs, governments will often not want that. Furthermore, as seen by Myanmar, some governments are much more closed off, and will limit the extent to which aid can be provided, which has brought the government in conflict with AHA. Also, NGOs often tend to come into competition with each other, carving up disaster zones to increase their influence. Finally, the commitment to physical well- being that ASEAN has signed up to can be used to justify intervention anywhere for many other reasons. Therefore, nations will want to see a clear set of rules for when an intervention is justified.
A decision on how to address climate change will have to be made, as that is seen as one of the primary causes of the natural disasters. This will also have to be debated with the need for economic development. Additionally, there must be a discussion about AHA and its mandate and what to do with it now that it exists. Finally, there will need to be a discussion about the role of NGOs and what the circumstances are where intervention is.