Asean Tackles Gaps on Climate Change Adaptation, Disaster Response


Over 70 delegates from member-states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and international humanitarian organizations tackled the challenges of raising awareness on climate change adaptation and linking it to disaster management in an ASEAN Regional Forum workshop held in Bangkok from May 31 to June 1.

ASEAN is composed of Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Philippines, Singapore, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Brunei.

Climate change adaptation, which refers to actions that could minimize the impacts of climate change,  and disaster management are critical subjects in this region, where 354,000 people have died from natural disasters in 2004-2014.  This number of fatalities corresponds to 50 percent of global deaths caused by disasters in the said decade, Larry Maramis, regional advisor of the UN Economic and Social Commission to ASEAN, said.

The workshop complemented a call from the G77 and China negotiating bloc—whose members include the 10 ASEAN nations—to ensure that as the world moves towards the implementation of the Paris climate deal, the support for adaptation will be on equal footing with those provided for mitigation, or the reduction of greenhouse gases. This call was made in the UN midyear climate change talks in May.

Awareness gap

One of the pressing issues raised in the workshop is the low level of awareness on climate change adaptation among local government officials.

This was the case in Vietnam, where local government officials initially developed two separate plans on climate change adaptation and disaster management. Now that there is a need to integrate them, local officials are finding it hard to merge the said plans together to form a coherent strategy.

“Awareness of climate change adaptation among local authorities is low. It is difficult to mainstream climate change adaptation into disaster risk reduction and management,” Bui Quang Huy, deputy director of the country's Disaster Management Center in the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, said.

This has implications on how they can maximize their resources, as the budget allocated for climate change adaptation is “more” than what has been set aside for disaster management. “There is much more money on climate change adaptation,” he said.

To address this, Vietnam formed a technical assistance group that combined training modules on climate change adaptation and disaster management. “Climate change adaptation is very new. The materials are very academic. We made the training package suitable for local authorities,” he said.

Rommel Cuenca, assistant secretary of the Climate Change Commission (CCC) in the Philippines, said they also have to think of new ways and come up with different systems to educate officials on climate change adaptation and disaster management. “You can’t just teach old dogs news tricks,” he said.

The CCC has started to conduct training for local government authorities on risk transfer mechanism, a cost-effective adaptation tool,  and also plans to establish a national climate and disaster risk information system which will serve as a one-stop shop for data which can be useful in developing local climate action plans.

“One ASEAN, One Response”

As the region’s members exchanged lessons and experiences on raising awareness on climate change adaptation, ASEAN has also started to take steps in improving its disaster response through its ASEAN Coordinating Center for Humanitarian Assistance (AHA Center) based in Jakarta, Indonesia.

“When typhoon Haiyan happened, we only had three people on the ground,” Arnel Capili, head of operations of AHA Center said. “We can do better than that.”

After their experience in Haiyan, the AHA Center developed the ASEAN Joint Disaster Response Plan (AJDRP), which was envisioned to improve the interoperability of disaster response among member-states.

The AJDRP’s objectives are guided by these keywords—scale, speed and solidarity. ASEAN must be able to quickly provide adequate assistance to its member-states which are hit by disasters, answering to the vision of “One ASEAN, One Response.”

Over 100 delegates from ASEAN countries met in Jakarta in February this year to come up with an initial draft of the AJDRP.

AHA Center is now creating a database on the resources and the capacity of each member-state to determine what kind of assistance they can request from each country in times of disasters.  The data gathered will be useful in enforcing AJDRP, which is projected to be adopted by ASEAN in October.