Monday, January 18, 2010

The lessons from Haiti for Asia-Pacific disaster planning

As I write, it is still early morning, dark but with a promise of light. The bird chorus has just begun.

Generally, the first thing I do in the morning is to check the news sites. As you might expect, the news is dominated by the sad developments in Haiti. There is little useful that I can say on this in terms of the detail.

In Saturday Morning Musings - Operation Padang Assist, I looked in a little detail at the Australian response to the Padang earthquake. This was one of those posts that was interesting to research and write because I was tracing through detail, the chronology and pattern of response. I followed up with Sunday Essay -country mindedness, Indonesia and the importance of mutual support.

Padang was a far smaller quake, while Australia in responding was working with a fully functioning Government. Still, if you look at the steps and the chronology involved, you will get a feel for whole processes. Imagine just how much more complex a huge disaster like Haiti must be.

One of the things that I have argued is the need for an enhanced regional capacity to respond the natural disasters.

There is little that countries in this region such as Indonesia or Australia can do quickly to help Haiti and its people beyond cash and the provision of specialist support as required. The first response has to be local and regional.

We know that there will be more natural disasters in the Asia-Pacific region. We need to be ready.

In saying this, I am not suggesting that political leaders in our immediate region such as Indonesian President Yudhoyono or Australian PM Rudd are not aware of this, nor am I suggesting failures in current planning efforts.

I am saying that all of us need to be aware of the need. We need to be proactive in thinking and talking about the issues involved and in supporting regional cooperation. 

At a time when discussion in the broader Asia-Pacific region is often dominated by political and economic tensions, a simple focus on the best way of responding to humanitarian need can not only improve our capacity to respond to disaster, but can also go some distance to defusing broader misunderstandings.  

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