Cyclone Nargis was the largest cyclone to hit Myanmar in its recorded history. It made landfall on 2 May 2008, and made its way across the country over two days and devastated the Ayeyarwaddy region. An estimated 84,500 people were killed and 53,800 went missing, and around 2.4 million people were affected. On 5 May, ASEAN Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan called on all member states to provide emergency relief through the ASEAN Agreement on Disaster Management and Emergency Response (AADMER). Three days later the Myanmar government agreed to work in coordination with the ASEAN Secretariat to deploy the first ASEAN Emergency Response and Assessment Team (ERAT). Its report was submitted to a Special ASEAN Ministerial Meeting. At the meeting ministers agreed to establish an appropriate mechanism. The result was a diplomatic body called the ASEAN Humanitarian Task Force (AHTF) including ASEAN, the Myanmar government and the United Nations, and an operational body, the Yangon-based Tripartite Core Group (TCG) to facilitate field operations. This led to the commissioning of the Post-Nargis Joint Assessment (PONJA) by the TCG, a multi-stakeholder joint assessment including the Myanmar government, ASEAN, the UN, international financial institutions and INGOs staffed by over 300 people divided into 32 teams assessing the affected area over ten days. Subsequent efforts were governed by an ASEAN monitoring unit.
These efforts signaled a new dawn for humanitarian partnerships in ASEAN. Now a decade later, the region has appointed its second Executive Director of the AHA Centre since its founding in 2011. It is therefore an appropriate time to reflect on humanitarian mechanisms in ASEAN, share the experiences of a decade, and ponder the replicability of such humanitarian mechanisms and under what circumstances they succeed. This Keynote Address followed by Public Roundtable will reflect upon the Cyclone Nargis response experience, consider contemporary humanitarian needs, and the impacts and importance of key stakeholders.
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