Inter-regional Comparisons of Humanitarian Action
The Asia-Pacific was again the world’s most disaster prone region in 2015 with a total of 160 disasters
reported, accounting for 47% of the world’s 344 disasters.1 Disasters in 2015 continued to shape life across the region with the Nepal earthquake and extreme weather events in Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Philippines, Vanuatu, and Micronesia affecting the lives of many people. Beyond natural hazards, the Asia-Pacific is also
home to low-intensity and intractable conflicts. These conflicts often result in loss of life, persecution, and in some cases, mass forced migration. In 2015, the Asia-Pacific saw mass migration of Rohingya refugees and Bangladeshi migrants by sea out of the Bay of Bengal from Myanmar and Bangladesh. These migrants attempted to reach Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Australia only to face ‘forced pushbacks,’ which created a humanitarian crisis in the region. It is essential that in order to adequately provide for the needs of disasteraffected populations humanitarian principles are upheld.
In this region the consequences of natural hazards and conflict crises put pressure on local communities, governments, as well as regional and international organisations. As a result of the different actors involved, their diverse mandates and political will, there are significant challenges to humanitarian response and disaster management. It is therefore important to foster greater cooperation between the actors involved to build stronger disaster management capabilities as well as deliver aid effectively and efficiently to those most in need. Trust building takes time and requires cooperation amongst stakeholders prior to a crisis situation. In an effort to begin such collaboration amongst actors, the Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) Programme at the Centre for Non-Traditional Security Studies, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) Nanyang Technological University (NTU), hosted and facilitated the conference on Inter-regional Comparisons of Humanitarian Action on February 22nd 2016 alongside the re-launch of the Consortium of Non-Traditional Security Studies in Asia (NTS-Asia Consortium) at the Grand Park City Hall Hotel, Singapore.
In Northeast Asia, China, Japan and the Republic of Korea are emerging international humanitarian actors. However, domestically humanitarian action is not new or non-traditional for their militaries, which are the first-responders during disasters. Humanitarian action is often seen as a means to maintain national security and generate popular legitimacy. Internationally, humanitarian action is dependent on domestic security conditions particularly for the Republic of Korea. In the Republic of Korea, humanitarian action is contingent upon the stability
of the Korean Peninsula – a core national security concern. When peninsula relations are particularly
unstable between the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the Republic of Korea, there is little appetite for humanitarian action elsewhere. That said the amount of money allocated to humanitarian affairs in the Republic of Korea and Northeast Asia overall are increasing.
Over the past year in Southeast Asia, the region has experienced humanitarian disasters as a result of both conflict and natural hazards. In Myanmar the flight of Rohingya out of Rakhine State into neighbouring countries caused a humanitarian crisis that highlighted the precarious nature of the conflict there and its impact on the region. In Aceh, customary law ensured the Rohingya were openly welcomed to the province, which was at odds with the position of the central government in Jakarta. In Malaysia, most assistance to the Rohingya was through informal means via non-governmental organizations, corporations and individuals. In a similar light, adequate humanitarian responses to natural hazards depended on a whole-of-society approach. However, challenges remained across the region like inadequate access to villages, communication barriers, and low levels of disaster prevention and preparedness amongst the affected population. Likewise in South Asia, Bangladesh, India, and Nepal were susceptible to numerous natural hazards, such as flooding, tsunamis, earthquake, typhoons, and landslides. In both Bangladesh and Nepal, there remains a need to also invest in disaster preparedness and prevention mechanisms to increase capacity and minimize relief costs.