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Disaster Management Reference Handbook (April 2022) - Northeast Asia

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The experiences of the people of the People’s Republic of China (hereafter “China” or “PRC”), Japan, the Republic of Korea (hereafter “South Korea,” “Korea,” or “ROK”), and Taiwan in disasters and emergencies make them valuable partners in global humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR). Each player responds differently with disaster-affected states and foreign communities, and they have differing relationships with the global HADR coordination framework as led by the United Nations (UN). Consequently, the administrative structures and legal frameworks for foreign disaster relief and humanitarian assistance differ, and the involvement of non-governmental organizations (NGO) and community-based organizations (CBO) varies widely. For example, hundreds of well-funded and well-connected Japanese NGOs work on emergency response outside of Japan whereas South Korea’s external emergency relief has traditionally been more closely linked to government financial donations and Korean corporations already operating commercially in disaster-hit areas; only in the past two decades have Korean CBOs become sufficiently financially independent and robust to operate independently of their government.

Northeast Asia is highly exposed to various hazards. Many of the region’s people live in high risk, multi-hazard areas that are also served by well-developed infrastructure that is similarly exposed to hazards. The risk landscape includes biological hazards alongside floods, storms, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and tsunamis.
Moreover, the effects of climate change will exacerbate some hazards. While Northeast Asia generally escapes some of the worst impacts in a worst-case climate change scenario, the number of people at high risk will still rise as climate change drives higher temperatures and different patterns of rainfall.

Northeast Asia accounts for about one-third of all Asia-Pacific disaster-related fatalities over the past decade. In addition to the human costs, annual economic losses from disasters can be massive. The hazard that has caused the greatest economic losses in China is drought while earthquakes have caused Japan’s greatest losses, and typhoons have had the highest economic cost of all disasters in South Korea and Taiwan.

While Mongolia is frequently integrated in Northeast Asia alongside its neighbor, China, this handbook does not address Mongolia as it is addressed in its own Center for Excellence in Disaster Management and Humanitarian Assistance (CFE-DM) disaster management handbook. Beyond the aforementioned major hazards, communities in the region have been impacted by pandemics, sand and dust storms, and heatwaves. The potential is high and rising for disasters to come in quick succession – e.g., typhoons and floods, earthquakes and tsunamis, and drought with sand and dust storms – or simultaneously, as occurred when floods hit during the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.

Based on experiences and frameworks, then, China, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan all bring different levels of expertise to HADR. Chinese government and security force agents have gained a reputation for urban search and rescue (USAR) and rapid response capabilities. Japanese medical teams have decades of experience responding to regional and global emergencies alongside the Japanese Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) who undertake search-and-rescue missions and provide flood control, medical care, epidemic prevention, water supply support, and transportation of personnel and supplies. ROK legal and institutional frameworks for humanitarian assistance prioritize demanddriven HADR with the government focused on ensuring predictable resources for implementing partners via both bilateral and multilateral channels, including UN agencies. Finally, Taiwan can deploy military air assets to deliver supplies while it also delivers cash and technical expertise for health care, such as during the COVID-19 pandemic