Australian Mission to ASEAN

ASEAN Disaster Management

Opening Speech

ASEAN Agreement on Disaster Management and Emergency Response (AADMER)

Second Partnership Conference

Mr Simon Merrifield

Australian Ambassador to ASEAN

Da Nang, Vietnam

28 November 2013


ASEAN Deputy Secretary General Alicia Bala. Mr Vu Van Tu,  Chair of the ASEAN Committee on Disaster Management.  Excellencies, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen. It’s an honour to make the opening address at today’s Second ASEAN Agreement on Disaster Management and Emergency Response (AADMER) Partnership Conference here in Da Nang.

Before I begin, and on behalf of the Australian people, I would like to acknowledge all who have been affected by Typhoon Haiyan. The thoughts of all Australians are with them at this most difficult time.  The overwhelming devastation wrought by Typhoon Haiyan is difficult to comprehend.

The deadly storm, the biggest on record, killed thousands and displaced more than four million people.  The Philippines certainly bore the brunt, but Vietnam’s east – including this province - didn’t come away completely unscathed.  This tragic event and other recent disasters in the region serve to underline the importance of ASEAN’s work in building preparedness and response capacity.  It has also brought into focus ASEAN’s outstanding progress in developing its capacity in regional disaster management arrangements.

Since its establishment, only two years ago, the ASEAN Coordinating Centre on Humanitarian Assistance on Disaster Management – or the AHA Centre has, several times over,  shown us all its potential as “a regional platform for facilitating cooperation and coordination -  among ASEAN Member States and with relevant United Nations and international organisations”  in response to disaster. 

In its short life, the AHA Centre has supported ASEAN disaster response efforts five times prior to the recent disaster (in Myanmar and Philippines in 2012, and Vietnam, the Philippines and Myanmar in 2013) and each time, as its capacity and experience grows, the AHA Centre’s operation gets a little more refined.  It was the AHA Centre which established the first communications out of the disaster zone in Tacloban two weeks ago, and it  provided the first reports of the impact of Typhoon Haiyan to Manila and the international community.  I think I probably speak for all ASEAN’s Dialogue Partners who have supported the AHA Centre since its establishment when I say   we are proud that our investment is starting to pay off so impressively.

AADMER – and Accomplishment Report

When disasters overwhelm local capacity we must all join forces and act as one.  The ASEAN motto  “one vision, one identity, one community” has once again shown its relevance - an important touchstone for the efforts over the last few weeks.

The region we share is one of the most disaster-prone in the world. It is not surprising that this region is at the forefront of planning and acting to reduce the impact of natural disasters.    The ASEAN Agreement for Disaster Management and Emergency Response (or the AADMER) is an important expression of ASEAN’s commitment to regional cooperation in Disaster Management:  it is a proactive framework setting priorities for Risk Assessment, Early Warning, Preparedness and Response, and Recovery.

It is informed by the lessons of the Indian Ocean Tsunami in 2004, and by the very effective ASEAN intervention, after Cyclone Nargis hit Myanmar in 2008.  This intervention was a watershed for showing us all the value of ASEAN regional response capability in support of member states’ when natural disaster strikes.

Much has been achieved since the AADMER entered into force in 2009.  As 2015 looms, it is a good time to prioritise what is still left to achieve.  The Accomplishment Report which is before us today, drawing on the recent Mid Term Review of the AADMER, is an excellent tool for this.  It is recommended reading for all those who are interested in supporting ASEAN’s successful implementation of the AADMER.  

The report tells us that much has been achieved.  The progress in Risk Assessment, Monitoring and Early Warning are commendable.  The development of systems and tools to enhance the important role of external partners like the United Nations and the ASEAN Partnership Group, in augmenting ASEAN’s own efforts, is also noteworthy. The pool of trained Emergency Rapid Assessment professionals is a stand out.  The AADMER Workplan, which translates the AADMER into action, and against which progress is reported, has proven to be an extremely important guide for implementation, and for monitoring progress. It is also a very important tool for Dialogue Partners such as Australia. 

I want to mention the outstanding work of the ASEAN Secretariat here - the AADMER Work Plan is a terrific tool to help us plan our assistance better; the work presented  today continues the high standard.  We will of course need time to study how we can best respond to the Concept Notes presented for delivering Phase 2 of the AADMER workplan.  I appreciate the effort which has gone into shaping the next 2 years.

Challenges ahead

The Accomplishment Report also highlights lots of challenges ahead – I want to highlight three which are very important to successful achievement of the AADMER’s goals.

 I call them “the three “i”’s”:

Institutionalising the AADMER at national level: the importance of national ownership of AADMER’s achievements and its priorities cannot be overstated.

Improving interoperability: so critical for timely and effective  response when a country is overwhelmed by a disaster

Institution building: Australia recognizes well - from our investments in the region over the decades – the importance of building institutional sustainability.   

The increasing intensity and frequency of natural disasters and the increased number of actors seeking to improve this region’s disaster response capacities, means both the (still very young) AHA Centre, and (the pretty lean) ASEAN Secretariat face an increasingly complex workload.  We need to recognise the increasingly demanding and resource intensive work ahead, as we consider funding priorities for Phase 2.

A fourth challenge:  instilling a culture of resilience

ASEAN’s viability rests upon the support for its goals and activities coming from its people.

In disaster management, this is imperative:   Of crucial importance is building community awareness and resilience to disasters so they are better able to help themselves. Don’t neglect long term recovery. We are reminded too of the longstanding importance of ASEAN’s partners - not only its Dialogue partners, but also its External Partners such as the international organisations, the United Nations, international NGOs and local civil society organisations – in supporting ASEAN to overcome these challenges.

 As a Dialogue Partner, I know well that any momentum established can only be sustained with continued support.  While this is true of disaster preparedness, it is particularly relevant for post-disaster recovery. It’s a common story:  One the initial response is over, and operations move to long term recovery, the world loses focus.  Mobilising the often very significant and long term resources needed for post-disaster recovery remains a chronic challenge.

Streamlining arrangements - beyond ASEAN

In the last decade or so, the Disaster Management landscape has been transformed. 

The region’s impressive economic development has brought with it startling growth in capacity, and ASEAN member states are more often than not able to respond themselves to the mid-level disasters that occur in their countries. This very positive development inevitably means role of we partners is changing.  I think I speak for other colleagues when I say we stand ready to continue to adjust to this new reality - to ensure that our assistance is as appropriate and timely as possible.

As well, the region has seen a growing commitment from “ASEAN-related mechanisms” - the ADMM, ADMM+, EAS, ARF, and APEC too - to improve the region’s preparedness to tackle natural disasters.  We heard much from ASEAN yesterday about the critical importance of building synergy between initiatives of these fora, to maximise the benefits of all resources at hand, to strengthen regional disaster management.

It is incumbent upon us all to work with ASEAN for greater synergy: Australia will continue to give priority to clarifying linkages and improving coordination across overlapping regional agendas, so that we minimise duplication and maximise outcomes from all our efforts.  We recognise ASEAN centrality to Regional Disaster Management.  And recognise well that Partnership – genuine partnership -  must be our watchword. We appreciate very much ASEAN’s efforts to work together to garner the resources from complementary efforts build strong regional capacity.

Disaster Risk Reduction

As the AADMER itself reminds us, response alone is not enough.  Recent events have focussed world attention on the devastating impact natural disasters have on our communities and our most vulnerable populations.  The economic costs of disasters and the cost of recovery can also be devastating.  Disasters have the potential to seriously undermine and even reverse hard won development gains.  By making our communities more resilient to shocks and more stable through economic growth, they will be better able to mitigate and respond to disasters.


Moving to the global stage, the next 12 months will be a critical period in laying the groundwork for the next iteration of the Hyogo Framework for Action, known as the HFA2.  The HFA set a global blueprint for Disaster Risk Management (DRR).  Like the AADMER, it was informed by the lessons of the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami response.   This region includes a number of member states who were early adopters of Hyogo.  (Cambodia, Indonesia, Philippines Vietnam)

We’re pleased with the direction that this next phase is taking and agrees with the May 2013 synthesis report of the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction that the next phase should:

  • build on the current framework;
  • promote greater local action;
  • integrate risk reduction into other development processes; and
  •  include the private sector. 

We look forward to more engagement with ASEAN to ensure that the HFA2 is a truly inclusive document which reflects this region’s profound experience in Disaster Risk Management.


As ASEAN and the international community respond to the devastation caused by Typhoon Haiyan , one thing is clear.  We must all work together, in partnership, to minimise the great human and economic cost of disasters. Without collective action too many more lives will be lost.  Hard won development gains, economic growth and social progress will be in jeopardy. And it will cost billions and billions in recovery efforts.   The challenges are huge but they do reinforce the importance of regional cooperation and of the need to continue to take action to reduce the impact of disasters before they strike and to build more resilient communities and governments.  Australia will continue to work with ASEAN and other partners to further strengthen disaster management, preparation, mitigation, response, and recovery activities in the region.

I commend ASEAN for the very significant progress in building the region’s disaster management capacity.  And for laying down clear guidance – in the form of the Accomplishment Report - for prioritising our support to ASEAN in this effort.  We stand ready to support the strategy, underpinned by the 21 Concept Notes.  By working together we have already seen improvements in the way we prepare for, respond to and recover from disasters.   I look forward to today’s conference and I encourage all delegates to build on the positive momentum that we have developed.  Thank you again to Vietnam for hosting today’s very timely meeting.