JAKARTA—The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) will mobilize “all available means” to help the Philippines get back on its feet in the wake of Supertyphoon Haiyan (Philippine code name Yolanda), Asean Secretary-General Le Luong Minh has pledged, after visiting disaster-hit areas there last week.
The grouping will rope in health, transport and communication officials across its member-states to support long-term recovery and rehabilitation efforts in the Philippines, he told diplomats and the media at the Asean secretariat here on Monday.
It will also discuss how Asean can strengthen its assistance and collective response to disasters.
“Debris on the roads has been cleared, so vehicles can operate and distribute supplies,” he said, recounting his visit. “But there was a lot of rain as well, and the environment is conducive to the outbreak of disease if conditions are not improved.”
His comments come as Asean disaster-management officials meet in Vietnam this week, and as several commentators criticize Asean’s response to the disaster as paling in comparison to the substantial offers of help by countries, such as the United States, Britain and Japan.
Over the weekend, the World Bank raised its aid to nearly $1 billion.
“The support of the international community has been very significant,” Minh said.
As the Philippines begins its recovery, Asean will share its best practices from members, he added, citing the Indian Ocean tsunami and Cyclone Nargis. The 2004 tsunami killed over 230,000 people, mostly in Aceh, Indonesia, while Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar in 2008 killed over 130,000.
Haiyan’s death toll stands at 5,235 dead, with another 1,600 missing, but the damage it caused to infrastructure has been compared to the situation in Aceh.
Significantly, the earlier major disasters saw Asean boost its disaster-management capacity. At an emergency meeting in January 2005, Asean leaders agreed to strengthen emergency relief, rehabilitation, reconstruction and prevention efforts.
Within six months, an agreement on disaster management and emergency response was inked to, among other things, set up an Asean Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on disaster management (AHA Centre) to better respond when nature next struck.
The center was launched in Jakarta in late 2011. Last year it acquired a disaster-monitoring system, which can observe data and developments in real time. A pool of civil defense and emergency rescue experts from Asean states, the Emergency Rapid Assessment Team (Erat), was created.
Asean officials said two days before Haiyan struck, an AHA officer set off for Tacloban to ensure emergency responders could communicate with the outside world after the typhoon hit. Also, two Erat members from Brunei Darussalam went to Tacloban to assess the help needed, and prefabricated offices and disaster kits were distributed a week later.
Some feel Asean can do better, and officials plan to discuss how to respond faster in future. –Asia News Network/MCT
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