Oct 23, 2012

Philippines - Asean urges civil groups to be more involved in disaster relief

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MANILA, Oct 23 -- Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) Secretary General Surin Pitsuwan has urged civil groups to be more involved in humanitarian disaster relief, especially in Asean member-states.

Citing the Malaysian non-government organization (NGO) Mercy Malaysia, Surin commended the group for their good work in disaster relief and construction all around the world, a statement from the Asean said.

“The kind of leadership shown by Mercy Malaysia in humanitarian assistance is the kind of leadership we will like to see from NGOs and civic groups in Asean in the same area of work,” said Surin during the inaugural Raja Nazrin Shah Lecture Series.

Other than Asean countries, the Malaysian NGO has also been active in projects stretching to Africa, and Afghanistan.

Surin’s suggestion for Mercy Malaysia to expand the lecture to include regional players in next year’s meeting, also won nods of approval from the Regent of Perak.

He also reminded the audience that the involvement of the private sector and the military, are essential in humanitarian assistance and reconstruction.

Expanding on the theme, he reminded the hundred-strong audience that the important roles of partners like the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and friendly governments, in what he described as the “Coalition of Mercy.”

“We have many groups and partners out there who have the expertise and are willing to help us,” he said, pointing out that the civil society has important role in “fleshing out the skeleton” or structure that Asean governments have built. One such area is the formation of Rapid Deployment Force in Asean member-states (AMS).

“Each country should have a list of say 50 people who can be deployed quickly and with minimum fuss in a disaster. These names should be cleared by all the AMS so that they can render assistance at the first opportunity.”

Tracing Asean’s efforts in disaster relief and reconstruction, Surin pointed out that the regional grouping has done well, but there is room for improvement.

Pointing out that three AMS, the Philippines, Indonesia and Vietnam, are among the world’s top 10 vulnerable countries because of geography, Surin said there is a need to work on a more pro-active approach, such as disaster risks reduction.

From the outpour of support and aid in the 2004 Boxing Day earthquake and tsunami, as well as the 2008 Cyclone Nargis disaster in Myanmar, plus last year’s Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, the world and the region are certainly not short of compassion. The challenge is getting better organized, so response can be even faster, and preventive measures can be taken where they are feasible.

“Asean must build greater resilience in its relief and reconstruction capabilities,” he said. Expressing confidence in the evolvement of disaster relief efforts, he said that’s because it boils down to “connectivity between one human heart to another.”

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