Asia Pacific countries prepare for future disasters

Published: 6 June 2015 13:12 CET

By Gabrielle Emery, IFRC

From 24 to 28 May, Malaysia played host to the ASEAN Regional Forum Disaster Relief Exercise 2015 (ARF DiREx 2015) in the state of Kedah and Perlis. Co-organized by the Government of Malaysia and the Government of the People’s Republic of China, this biennial simulation event was designed to facilitate disaster response coordination mechanisms between ASEAN and other states in the Asia Pacific Region, as well as international humanitarian players. This was the fourth time such an event was held and attracted over 2000 foreign participants from across the region and beyond.

The event provided a golden opportunity for Malaysian authorities to test out its national disaster response mechanisms and procedures as outlined in Directive 20, the standard operating procedure for disaster management in Malaysia. Not only were the national and local coordination mechanisms tested – the international and regional systems were also put in place to see how they fit into the equation, particularly how regional arrangements laid out in the ASEAN agreement on disaster management and emergency response (AADMER) would operate in a major disaster operation.

The event comprised three different components – a tabletop exercise to test policy and strategic considerations, a field training exercise where a super typhoon scenario was brought to life, and a review to support lessons-learned and recommendations to strengthen future simulation events. During the simulation exercise, Malaysian Red Crescent Society (MRCS) reflected its auxiliary role and profiled its growing capacities in the areas of water and sanitation, radio communication, as well as its more traditional activity of mass-cooking, preparing and serving 3000 meals six times a day. Red Cross societies from Thailand, Indonesia and Lao also participated in the simulation to support Malaysian Red Crescent Society in  its water and sanitation activities.

During the table-top exercise, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) was invited to present common legal issues that occur in large scale response operations. Jagan Chapagain, director of the IFRC in Asia Pacific, urged participating countries to examine their domestic laws and policies for disaster management. “The recent earthquake in Nepal should serve as a wake-up call to all countries in the Asia Pacific to update and implement their own disaster laws and policies before it is too late,” he said. “It doesn’t matter how big, how rich or how  prepared you are, there may be a time when you will need the international community to support you in your relief and recovery efforts. The absence of clear laws and rules to guide this can lead to bureaucratic bottlenecks and unnecessary confusion and complication and  slows down live saving assistance getting to the people who need it.”

Although Malaysia does not experience disasters as frequently as some of its Southeast Asian neighbours, the recent dramatic floods in the east coast of the country shows that Malaysia is by no means immune from weather related events. Authorities are aware that more investment is needed in the disaster management infrastructure of the country – including developing a disaster management law.