The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) was formed in 1967. It aimed to reduce regional hostilities and to prevent communism from spreading across Southeast Asia to Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Indonesia. Brunei Darussalam, Vietnam, Lao PDR, Myanmar, and Cambodia later joined ASEAN. However, those threats have changed to the threat of natural disasters. These ten-Member States recognize the importance of ensuring the safety of its citizens from challenges and threats. The ASEAN region is vulnerable to several natural disasters including typhoons, floods, drought, earthquakes, and volcanic eruption. ASEAN has experienced three catastrophic disasters in the past 15 years. These include the Indian Ocean Tsunami (2004), Cyclone Nargis (2008), and Typhoon Haiyan (2013). The need for a coordinated ASEAN response to major disasters in the region gained momentum after the Indian Ocean Tsunami. Because of this, regional cooperation towards addressing the rising frequency of natural disasters is of vital interest to ASEAN. ASEAN has set out to develop a regional framework covering aspects of disaster management with many tools, initiatives, platforms, and mechanisms.
All ten ASEAN Member States have detailed law and policy frameworks for national disaster preparedness and response; however, there are varying types of disaster response systems in ASEAN Member States. It has been an important goal of ASEAN to share implementation of the ASEAN Agreement on Disaster Management and Emergency Response (AADMER) though identifying and analyzing them individually and regionally in order to jointly respond to disasters. The adoption and implementation of AADMER has facilitated the enhancement of regional mechanisms on preparedness and response. “One ASEAN, One Response” was developed to build upon AADMER in order to have a collective strength of all stakeholders in ASEAN collaborating together during a natural disaster. The ASEAN Joint Disaster Response Plan (AJDRP) was created to support the above-mentioned initiatives, strengthen ASEAN mechanisms, and enhance cooperation and coordination with the humanitarian community and national and international mechanisms.
Many of these mechanisms to improve regional arrangements for disaster relief and response are set up by the ASEAN Secretariat, the ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance (AHA Centre), the ASEAN Committee on Disaster Management (ACDM), and other governing bodies. The ASEAN Secretariat functions to provide greater efficiency in the coordination of ASEAN organs and a more effective implementation of ASEAN projects and activities. Their mission is to initiate, facilitate, and coordinate ASEAN stakeholder collaboration in realizing the purposes and principles of ASEAN as reflected in the ASEAN Charter. The ASEAN Secretariat sits on the Governing Board of the AHA Centre, and provides direct support to the Secretary-General of ASEAN. The Secretariat is also responsible in facilitating and monitoring progress in the implementation of the AADMER and its Work Program. The AHA Centre was established to oversee the implementation of AADMER. The AHA Centre coordinates all operational activities under the AADMER and is the key facilitator of cooperation and coordination within ASEAN Member States during a disaster. The impact of the AHA Centre is important since they coordinate with agencies such as the United Nations and international organizations when responding to disasters in the area. The AHA Centre is also responsible for mobilizing ASEAN’s standby assets and personnel, such as sending relief items through the Disaster Emergency Logistic System (DELSA), and by deploying the ASEAN Emergency Response and Assessment Team (ASEAN-ERAT). The ACDM is composed of National Disaster Management Organizations (NDMOs) from all 10 ASEAN Member States and the members are also the AADMER National Focal Points.
Natural disasters cost the ASEAN region in large numbers of fatalities and economic losses. It is important to create mechanisms for dealing with natural disasters in the Indo-Pacific Region. Regional organizations such as ASEAN are playing an evolving role in disaster response efforts. There are many resources and efforts in the region to further enhance ASEAN’s humanitarian assistance and disaster response capabilities.