MS. MYAT MOE THWE
Ms. Myat Moe Thwe’s journey in the disaster management field is one of turning personal experience into passion and desire for advancement. As Director for Coordination and Research Division in Myanmar’s Department of Disaster Management, Ms. Moe is responsible for international cooperation and coordination on disaster preparedness, relief, response and recovery for the nation. Her busy schedule sees her coordinating between local and international disaster management organisations on the development and implementation of policy and guidelines, undertaking disaster risk management research, and also being Myanmar’s go-to person for the nation’s ever-expanding engagement in the regional One ASEAN One Response movement.
It was, however, a more personal reason that ignited Ms. Moe’s passion for all things disaster related. Experiencing the full brunt of Cyclone Nargis when it stormed through Myanmar in 2008 not only affected Ms. Moe directly, but also voluntarily participated in the emergency relief and response operations and family reintegration programmes that took place in the days, weeks and months following the significant disaster. “The needs were so immense and broad at the time” Ms. Moe recalls, “but resources were very limited. There were very few organisations who could support early disaster relief, and even many of the responders ourselves were also victims of the disaster”. While providing whatever form of physical and emotional support she could, the engagement of numerous international disaster management organisations in the time following the disaster saw Ms. Moe involved in training and capacity building ‘on-the-ground’, that allowed her to learn more about what she had just been involved in, and learn lessons about disaster management on a daily basis.
“Experience is the best teacher – and learning from experience is the most important tool for individual development” says Ms. Moe.
“There were mistakes that I made during that very first experience due to the lack of knowledge and skill in dealing with disaster. However, this in turn drove my passion to learn more about disasters, and further pursue skills in disaster management.”
When taking about the present – and the future – for disaster management in Myanmar and the ASEAN region, Ms. Moe is quick to highlight the importance of technology to support improved preparedness and response for the communities. She identifies the important role of technology, and how it can support increases in human capacity for disaster management practices. “We have ideas and experience related to disaster management, but they need to be combined with technology for increased outreach and speed”, explains Ms. Moe. “By doing so, our valuable ideas can be transformed into technical tools for effective management” she continues. With this idea in the forefront of her mind, Ms. Moe led the development of a mobile application called Disaster Alert Notification. Ms. Moe explains that it is a simple yet useful example of utilising technology for communicating and disseminating information on disaster, allowing for an integrated and common platform through which people can obtain information easily and communicate in the face of disaster.
All innovation and technology aside, it is Ms. Moe’s humanitarian values and empathy that clearly form the base of all that she does. She states that “disaster teaches us to be more humane, humble, tolerant and resilient, and these are the kind of values that are so important even outside times of disaster”. Ms. Moe believes that these humanitarian ideals should be nurtured, and the collective strength that overcoming disaster requires should be continuously developed. She is also a strong believer in preparedness, saying that “disaster preparedness should be part of people’s everyday life, with education and awareness raising directing us to do the right things in the wake of disaster”. It is these values that Ms. Moe instils in herself throughout all facets of her work and life – reminding us that for disaster managers, work and life are often one and the same. “I seek to make my working environment feel like home, which means developing friendly relationships with my colleagues, and thinking of them as my family” she says. Ms. Moe emphasises the importance of mutual sharing and caring, and finished by reminding us all that “some external factors are out of our control, so we must accept this reality and make life more enjoyable for ourselves and others”.
Written by : William Shea | Photo : Personal collection of Myat Moe Thwe
MR. ADIRATNA WIRA ADNAN
The diversity of the ASEAN region is reflected through the pool of talents within the ASEAN Emergency Response and Assessment Team (ERAT). The range of expertise and skills combined also showcases the inclusivity of ASEAN humanitarians – who meaningfully enrich perspectives of decision makers while engaged in emergency response. For this Volume of The Column, one of the ASEAN-ERAT Information Management specialists from Malaysia shares his story with us in between his packed schedule.
Now sitting as the Senior Assistant Director in the Technical and Infrastructure Department of Malaysia’s National Disaster Management Agency (NADMA), Mr Adiratna Wira Adnan has found himself on a career pathway that was somewhat unexpected. A background in engineering, and numerous strategic roles in public works and infrastructure development had Mr Adiratna working across some of Malaysia’s largest road and development projects, coordinating teams and collaborating with experts while contributing to Malaysia’s rapidly expanding infrastructure sector.
Adi – as he likes to be called – recalls being seconded to NADMA three years ago, and he was immediately interested in the work due to a range of other disaster relief experiences he encountered during his time in the private sector. “It’s not what I had originally envisaged”, Adi tells us, “but perhaps it is my pre-determined fate, and I am truly glad to be working here”. Adi also recognises the value brought by an engineering mind with disaster management, highlighting the relationship between risk-awareness in engineering that is also central disaster risk reduction (DRR) practices. “Trained as engineer, it helps me promote the safety-first awareness, analysing it qualitatively and later taking necessary action to avoid, mitigate or reduce the risk – particularly in safety and security aspects of DRR-related tasks”, Adi says.
As a member of the ASEAN-ERAT, Adi is one of the few members that have been deployed three times in less than one year, with the region calling upon his expertise during 2018’s Typhoon Mangkhut and Central Sulawesi emergency responses, as well as the preliminary needs assessment mission in Rakhine in early 2019. Adi highlights the varying natures of each deployment – the different contexts, aims and experiences all unique in their own way. Adi’s first response to Typhoon Mangkhut saw him taking part as a Team Leader of a small team gathering information that was complex and time-sensitive, while in contrast, the Central Sulawesi response was a large deployment in numbers and scope of work, collaborating with partners from both local and international parties. “It put all the existing related procedures and policies – not only ERAT but national and regional – to the test”, he remembers.
More recently, the preliminary needs assessment for repatriation readiness in Rakhine was a slow-on-set mission, seeing the more intense tasks taking place at the end of the 10-day deployment. Adi tells us that this was the “first extensive humanitarian assessment by ERAT, covering different and diverse aspects of assessment outside of the usual ERAT scope. It reflected the importance of safety and security aspects during deployment, that were perhaps often secondary during other previous response deployments”.
Adi’s tips for other ASEAN-ERAT members are highly relevant to his array of experiences during deployment. Primarily, Adi says “it is of the utmost importance to be well-prepared for deployment, physically and mentally. Personal preparedness should also include gathering relevant information, as well as useful tools for use when deployed. These efforts will help remove any self-doubt, and elevate your motivation, as you will perform strongly with the right tools at hand”. Adi has also facilitated workshops and trainings as part of the ASEAN-ERAT courses, as well as other related courses at universities and schools.
He enjoys such engagement, and recognises the value that learning from each other’s experiences can hold. “I consider myself facilitating a knowledge sharing session, of which I believe each person has something valuable to share that everybody can benefit from. Thus, the enthusiasm and energy within the class or the session always inspires me to do more.”
Finally, Adi also highlights the importance of work-life balance, even if your role is committing to serve your nation at all times. He tries to keep his work and family life separate, and undertake any extra tasks late at night as not to affect quality time with his loved ones. However, he also highlights that his fellow responders are his second family, and is always ready to give 100% commitment during responses. It is this mix of work and home life that provides Adi with his happiness, and he states that “I pursue happiness and challenges in work. I believe we will be happy if we give something to others and when we acquire something for ourselves. In this field, the opportunity to give – a new idea, a new way to do things, new technological advances improving regular relief efforts – this is as endless as disaster and its risk management itself, it is as broad as the seas”.
Written by: Shintya Kurniawan, William Shea | Photo : AHA Centre
MS. JENNY LEE
Lunch time at the AHA Centre’s office has become merrier since the beginning of 2019. The laughter, casual conversations, as well as thought-provoking discussions shared during the break involves a new friend from a neighbouring country – Australia. Ms. Jenny Lee has been assigned to support the AHA Centre as a Senior Civil-Military Coordination Specialist through the Australia Assists Programme – for the first half of 2019. Her temporary assignment with the AHA Centre aims to strengthen humanitarian civil-military coordination, safety and security policies for the ASEAN-ERAT members, and AHA Centre staff. With more than 12 years of experience in the humanitarian sector, Jenny has established her expertise in civil-military coordination, safety and security, and gender. She has contributed to numerous emergency responses, in parts of Central America, Asia and the Pacific as well as supporting the search for missing MH-370 in the Southern Indian Ocean. The AHA Centre is pleased to share with you one of our in-depth conversations with Jenny.
“I was drawn to the humanitarian work because of my late grandmother. She did not introduce me to organisations like the United Nations, or different NGOs or other humanitarian agencies, but she showed me the positive impact a person can make if they have the right attitude and intentions for the community”, Jenny explains when asked about the start of her professional journey. As she recalls her childhood memories, Jenny remembers her grandmother being the unofficial “community leader”, whom neighbours turned to whenever they needed help, often creating a safe space to listen and provide support for others. This experience created a lasting impact leading Jenny to believe that becoming a humanitarian starts in one’s own home and community – regardless of education or experience.
Having worked in the humanitarian sector for over a decade, Jenny saw the impact of conflict and disasters from the affected communities. In the topic of gender, she saw similar challenges for men, women, boys and girls in 12 countries. It was common to see women and girls consistently experiencing the same obstacles that stem from gender inequality. Challenges to accessing schooling, challenges to balancing professional lives as mothers and wives, to difficulty in accessing basic female hygiene kits and health services to mention a few things. This exposure has drawn her to realise that addressing root causes of gender inequality would need to be a collective effort from everyone in all parts of the community, organisations and at the political level regardless of gender. She’s also learned that perspectives do matter, and it is crucial to understand different perspectives are important for suitable solutions.
Adopting gender lens and understanding the impact of inequality takes time and effort, and may not come naturally for many people. In this context, advocacy is difficult, and “buy-in” (convincing people that this is worthwhile) from the right people is also difficult to achieve. Advocating for anything that deals under the umbrella of gender – from organisational policy, safety and security in the field, gender balanced representation in leadership and staff, emergency humanitarian aid – can be very challenging. However, the courage to raise such issues and empowering both men and women that their perspectives are important, and can be rewarding and lead to better solutions to different issues.
Jenny has learned over the years that “how” you start the advocacy discussion makes all the difference. She’s come across soldiers, military officers and police officers who were not only keen to addressing gender inequality and wanted to make a difference on changing the structural discrimination for women to ensure they have a more effective force. However, many did share insights of how it wasn’t pleasant to be cornered into a “gender-insensitive” individual by many activists. To Jenny, she’s learned this from a friend who admitted that understanding the concept of gender perspectives and seeing what this looks like from a practitioner’s point of view was difficult as this is asking him to shift away from the mindset that he has built for over 30 years in the security sector.
Moreover, Jenny acknowledges strong leadership is a key to achieve gender equality. Leadership starts with individuals at all levels, but executive leadership is crucial for an organisation to learn and adapt to the needs and requirements to ensure that everything within the work of an organisation is gender sensitive. She’s observed different approaches of senior leaders on how they do this. Some show leadership on this as a result of personal experience and ideas, some leaders who are new to this concept choose to rely on their gender expert and rely on them to ensure that all issues are addressed.
Jenny learned that with all these leaders (male and female), when asked why they decided to take this forward, they simply stated that “it is the right thing to do”. Organisations should reflect the global 50:50 male/female ratio at all levels to ensure that the work they do sees better quality, better effect and better solutions. Another key characteristic of their leadership was that they empowered those who were working for them, giving them chances to make “productive mistakes” which always helped everyone to become better at what they do. This helped everyone on their learning journey on understanding the intricacies of gender sensitive policies and what this looked like at the practitioner level which made a huge difference.
She concludes that, “Back in Australia, in my previous role without the leadership support, I would never had the freedom and the confidence that I have today to advocate for this. So, leadership support is key, and their empowerment of my work was also a key. On reflection, the amount of trust they gave me, was quite phenomenal and I think this helped in achieving a lot of huge tasks – as well as their open-mindedness to learn new things to make the world a little bit better than yesterday. Everyone has a room to contribute and no contribution in this sector is small.”
Written by: Shintya Kurniawan | Photo : AHA Centre
PROF. DR. KUNTORO MANGKUSUBROTO
Prof. Dr. Kuntoro Mangkusubroto is one of Indonesia’s and ASEAN’s leading figures on disaster recovery and reconstruction. With a deep background forged through a variety of governance and private business roles focused towards energy and natural resources, Dr. Mangkusubroto is also the founder of the School of Business and Management of the Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB). His leadership as the head of the Aceh-Nias Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Agency from in 2005-2009 – which saw him oversee post-tsunami reconstruction and utilisation of local and international assistance to rebuild the shattered region – elevated Dr. Mangkusubroto to become one of the region’s most renowned leaders in disaster management.
Dr. Mangkusubroto’s success leading post-tsunami reconstruction efforts has seen him become a go-to resource in other ASEAN disaster response and recovery efforts – being invited to engage in disasters across ASEAN Member States including Myanmar and the Philippines, as well as international efforts in Nepal and Japan. During 2018’s AHA Centre Executive (ACE) Programme’s Leaders Talk series, participants had the opportunity to learn about the key concepts and integral elements of strong leadership in disaster recovery from Dr. Mangkusubroto himself. Central to Dr. Mangkusubroto’s message was the importance of trust and integrity of ASEAN leaders in disaster management and coordination.
To gain this trust, Dr. Mangkusubroto says, leaders must be able to approach key players and parties to ensure efficiency in logistics and other disaster management processes. He emphasises that knowing who to approach and what to say is key to overcoming the variety of obstacles that can arise during a disaster response. It is through these approaches and the conveying of succinct and clear information that shows one’s integrity, and with this integrity the trust is then strengthened. Dr. Mangkusubroto also highlights the importance of understanding specific contexts and cultures of communities across the region, and that leaders must be prepared to recognise and, importantly, overcome issues for better results for the people as a whole.
“As a leader, people will come to you continuously – they may be angry, sad or unstable due to their losses”, he said. “Just let them release, listen to them, and just give them your sympathy, as once you’ve finished your work, they’ll realise you are serious.” .
To gain this trust, Dr. Mangkusubroto says that leaders must be able to approach key players and parties to ensure efficiency in logistics and other disaster processes. He emphasises that knowing who to approach and what to say is key to overcoming the variety of obstacles that can arise during a disaster response. It is through these approaches and the conveying of succinct and clear information that shows ones integrity, and with this integrity the trust is then strengthened. Mr. Mangkusubroto also highlights the importance of understanding specific contexts and cultures of communities across the region, and that leaders must be prepared to recognise and, importantly, overcome issues for better results for the people as a whole.
Recalling the experiences from the huge reconstruction efforts after the Indian Ocean Tsunami in Aceh, Dr. Mangkusubroto highlights the importance of remaining calm and focused during the midst of high emotions and traumatised communities. “As a leader, people will come to you continuously – they may be angry, sad or unstable due to their losses”, he said. “Just let them release, listen to them, and just give them your sympathy, as once you’ve finished your work, they’ll realise you are serious”. These are just some of the challenges faced by disaster managers and leaders in the field, and overcoming these calmly and reasonably are a big part of what regional leaders must aim to achieve.
After discussions on a range of contexts and experiences faced by leaders in disaster management, Dr. Mangkusubroto concludes on the key elements of efficient and effective disaster management leaders – particularly when in the field in the period after large disasters strike. He emphasises the importance of coordination and communication, whether with governments, local and international responders, logistics providers and the affected communities themselves. He highlights that all parties are there to help and support in their own way, and it is up to the leaders to ensure all parties come together to achieve the greatest results. Dr. Mangkusubroto insists that regardless of the mix of contexts, cultures or political influences at play, the best outcomes can and must be achieved for an effective and sustainable recovery and reconstruction phase. And this, he reminds us, is the key role of ASEAN leaders on disaster management.
Written by : William Shea | Photo : AHA Centre
H.E. PAM DUNN
H.E. Pam Dunn is New Zealand’s Ambassador to ASEAN, and she was New Zealand’s first person of Asian descent to head a diplomatic post. After working her way through a range of diplomatic roles – both at home in New Zealand and significant time in China – Ambassador Dunn took on her current role in early 2018. This broad experience as a leader across varying contexts and with diverse teams has provided her a unique insight and opinion on just what leadership means, and how to be a strong and effective leader in a modern, changing world. During late 2018, Ambassador Dunn delivered a leader’s talk to the AHA Centre’s Executive (ACE) Programme participants, allowing participants a unique and engaging insight into her experience and knowledge for their futures in leading the ASEAN region on disaster management.
Mrs. Dunn’s leadership career is full of challenges and ground-breaking firsts. Her role in the early 2000’s as New Zealand Consul General in Shanghai saw her become the first Asian-New Zealand to take up such a high diplomatic post. In the array of roles that followed – both at home and abroad – Mrs. Dunn was to learn about not only the people she led, but more about herself and her own point of view on being a successful and impactful leader for the teams she headed. She highlights the fact that she made mistakes, as we all do, but that the key was to learn from those mistakes and how to improve. Such learning and self-awareness is an important self-growth element to becoming a better leader. Mrs. Dunn also spoke of taking on the harder aspects of leadership, whether working with under-performing staff or having to discharging staff who worked hard due to organisational change. She highlights that this – while perhaps the hardest part of leadership – is also the part that defines a great leader from the pack. Being prepared for change, and acting on organisational decisions that you may not personally agree with are just a couple of challenging contexts that one signs-up for when they take on leadership roles.
Mrs. Dunn also spoke of the importance of understanding what your values are, and implementing them not only within your own work, but within your team’s efforts as well. For her, respect is key, and she highlights the importance of showing such respect to all people in the workplace and outside, regardless of their position, their characteristics, or any other features that are different from our own. She also reminds us that in this modern, changing world, the idea of leadership has changed. No longer must we ‘look’ or seem like a leader from appearance only, but that new leaders must be engaged, responsive, and aim to train and build those around them to also carry the leadership burden.
Moving to the ASEAN region and adapting to a new context, culture and team has been Mrs. Dunn’s most recent challenge, within which she has again revisited the importance of strategic leadership that she learnt during her time in the New Zealand Embassy in China. Having the ability to manage up, down and sideways, as well as determining your roles, priorities and where to put your time and effort are all integral aspects of leading in a busy, evolving work environment. Such leadership is therefore integral in the disaster management context.
Mrs. Dunn gave her insight on the key elements of what she believes forms effective and successful leadership. “Strategic leadership is key to ensuring that we are empowering and creating ownership within our team to understand what they are doing and why they are doing it”, she said. Mrs. Dunn also highlights the importance of diversity, as it opens the door for creativity and new ideas. While it is much more challenging than a team that mirrors your own characteristics, it can also be much more successful, provided we ensure the diverse range of staff feel comfortable that they have a place within the team. Alongside this, providing time to your staff – and importantly yourself – is also a must for great leaders. Time, she says is one of the most valuable things we can give. Mrs. Dunn also highlights the importance of having a mentor to guide you through the challenges, obstacles and hard times that litter the path of leadership. Finally, Mrs. Dunn implored the audience to ‘just say yes’. When she herself built the confidence to just say yes to opportunities, more and more opportunities presented themselves.
The Ambassador reminds us to think not about whether you are good enough, but whether you can help others reach their potential – whether you can make the world a better place. “Say yes and see what happens, you may be surprised”, she finishes with a smile.
Written by : William Shea | Photo : AHA Centre, ASEAN Secretariat
PROF. DRA FATMA LESTARI
“PREPARATION THROUGH EDUCATION IS LESS COSTLY
THAN LEARNING THROUGH TRAGEDY”
Prof.dra. Fatma Lestari is one of Indonesia’s leading academics in the disaster management field, with her particular interest in chemical safety and toxicology allowing her to provide specific insight into the recent the ASEAN Regional Disaster Emergency Response Simulation Exercise (ARDEX-18) held in Cilegon, West Java, that included a scenario on the effect of hazardous materials (hazmat) during disasters. During the preparation of ARDEX-18, The Column caught up with Prof.dra. Fatma, to gain her unique insight on matters such as hazmat, gender empowerment, and community preparedness in the ASEAN disaster management field.
Prof.dra. Fatma has developed her disaster management portfolio working across a range of programmes and activities in the region, now working as a lecturer and researcher in the University of Indonesia’s Department of Occupational Health and Safety, under the Faculty of Public Health. She began her work with the university in 1995, engaging directly with the Government of Indonesia on industrial emergency response and preparedness measures. With a background in chemistry, Prof.dra. Fatma reminds us of the importance of the hazmat element within disaster response by stating “In our country, oil and gas industries are one of the major industries that contribute to the Indonesian energy. They face many challenges – one which is emergency response”.
It is the expansion and development of industry that adds to the risk, Prof.dra. Fatma states, not only in Indonesia but across the region and the rest of the world. Its proximity with the natural environment, alongside local communities, requires strong engagement to develop knowledge and preparedness mechanisms to avoid disastrous outcomes for the region’s people. Prof.dra. Fatma talks of recent efforts to work with communities on disaster preparedness and response at a local level, through a programme known as Kampung Tanggap Bencana (disaster prepared villages). “We provide them with the knowledge such as first aid, how to move victims from the disaster site to a safe zone – it focuses on community participation”, she explains. Prof.dra. Fatma highlights the importance of such programmes across the region, and ensuring they are implemented across a number of mediums, including local government, community centres and local schools.
Linked heavily within such community-based efforts is the role of women in disaster management. As Prof.dra. Fatma notes, “We need to empower more females, because once their knowledge improves, they can teach their children, as mothers are the primary teachers in the home in Indonesian society”. Empowerment is also strategic for information sharing within communities between women, as women tend to have their own forums and methods for engaging deeply within their communities – an element that must be utilised for stronger and more resilient local villages. “If women’s knowledge on disaster management is increased, they can become great leaders in their communities”.
The varying degrees of hazmat size and risks are a key element for Prof.dra Fatma, particularly as ASEAN disaster management begins to focus on increased inclusiveness of hazmat elements in disaster management – such as through the ARDEX-18 exercise. Whether large industrial chemical plants, local village Liquid Petroleum Gas (LPG ) storage tanks, or anything in-between, all form a great risk to the lives and livelihoods of local communities should natural disaster strike. Central to this is the importance of community understanding and participation within disaster management efforts, as Prof.dra Fatma states “while emergency responders may arrive in some places, they can’t be everywhere automatically, so a key first step is if the community can undertake an independent evacuation”. Alongside this, Prof.dra. Fatma reminds us of the importance of government support to such community-based efforts, that can empower and develop them to support themselves during the initial stages of disaster. “Providing communities with the knowledge, equipment and mechanisms to protect themselves is key, then communities are ready and able to act at a moment’s notice.”
Written by : Valerie Bayhon | Photo : AHA Centre
MR. KADIR MAIDEEN
Kadir Maideen has been a part of the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) for 24 years, currently tasked with enlisting and training newly enlisted National Service Members into the SCDF system. His engagement with the disaster management field began in the late 1990’s through a range of SCDF roles, in which he found himself delving deeper and deeper into the emerging ASEAN disaster management field. This early engagement, supported by his role and position within ASEAN and the SCDF, saw Mr. Kadir play a crucial role within the group that founded the ASEAN Emergency Response and Assessment Team (ASEAN-ERAT).
Mr. Kadir first joined the SCDF’s elite Disaster Assistance and Rescue team in 1999, responding to overseas disasters such as the earthquake in Taiwan during September of that year. “I think the turning point for me however”, he remembers, “was undertaking the United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) course in 2004, shortly after which I was part of the UNDAC response to the Aceh tsunami”. Mr. Kadir continued with missions to Pakistan, and Jogjakarta and Padang in Indonesia. The initiation of the ASEAN Agreement on Disaster Management and Emergency Response (AADMER), and SCDF’s role as the focal point for the ASEAN Committee on Disaster Management (ACDM), saw Mr. Kadir move deeper into the ASEAN disaster management sector, and in 2007 found himself attached to the ASEAN Secretariat to develop the Standard Operating Procedures for Regional Standby Arrangements and Coordination of Joint Disaster Relief and Emergency Response Operations (SASOP). After returning to his role in the SCDF, Mr. Kadir was then positioned at the forefront of the ASEAN-ERAT development process.
“I was part of the initial team, together with some of my colleagues, assigned to formulate the goals for ERAT training, on how ERAT should be formed, how it could be operationalised, and therefore, and setting the path for what ASEAN-ERAT is today.” Mr. Kadir remembers that the initial planning and design was broad and would follow the model of UNDAC – yet from a regional perspective. In reality, the ERAT system was formed during 2007, and began initial implementation steps through two operational responses – in Myanmar (Cyclone Nargis) – during 2008. However, it was the Mentawai earthquake and tsunami in 2010 that served as the basis to validate the ASEAN-ERAT processes.
Mr. Kadir remembers that at these deployments, it was all very basic – “The mission did not use any comprehensive assessment tools or sophisticated communication means such as what we have now. The whole process was experiential and experimental, full of challenges. But with our strong commitment and excellent team work, we overcame these challenges. Above all, we document the challenges faced and areas for improvements and present them at the next ERAT course.”
Looking to the future of ASEAN-ERAT, through the period of the programme’s transformation plan, Mr. Kadir sees great opportunity for being responsive and innovative. “We must think ahead” he reflects, “as even some of the existing response mechanisms are becoming irrelevant due to the changing times”. “We must really think about the parameters that guide what ERAT will be, how it transforms, and to harness new technology for enhanced efficiency.” Mr. Kadir hopes ASEAN-ERAT will continue to be relevant and responsive, and not become cumbersome in its implementation. “We must ensure that ASEAN-ERAT is a much sought-after resource in times of disaster” he states.
Overall, Mr. Kadir hopes that ASEAN-ERAT continues to expand and open its doors to all members of the region, receiving more-and-more participants from outside the existing disaster management network. “I hope that we reach a stage where anybody could be an ASEAN-ERAT member, contributing to the benefit of ASEAN itself.” As for potential future participants in the ASEAN-ERAT programme, Mr. Kadir highlights the importance of self-preparation – as preparing oneself for the rigours and stress of a response is a key factor to a successful response in itself. He concludes by reminding all current and future ASEAN-ERAT members to “always know that when you are on a mission, you have friends with you, and they, and the AHA Centre have your back – they will always be there to support you”.
Written by : William Shea | Photo : AHA Centre
MRS. DAM HOA
Mrs. Dam Hoa is one of Viet Nam’s senior disaster managers, and one of the ASEAN region’s leading female figures in the sector. Hoa, as she likes to be called, has spent over ten years working in the field of natural disaster management, now she is working at Science and Technology and International Corporation Departments of the Vietnam Disaster Management Authority (the nation’s National Disaster Management Office – NDMO), working on a range of disaster management projects across the region, as well as supporting ASEAN communities through numerous disaster responses. Through her time in the field Hoa has witnessed the transformation of ASEAN disaster management, directly experiencing the positive changes and improvements that can be witnessed across the region.
Hoa didn’t choose the disaster management path from the beginning. After graduating, she began working with NGOs, such as the Asian Disaster Preparedness Centre (ADPC) in Thailand, implementing disaster reduction programmes in Laos, Cambodia, as well as her homeland of Vietnam – and things just built from there. “Vietnam is a country often affected by natural hazards, so when I began to work in this field, I enjoyed the work so much that I just continued” she recalls. She also remembers her first engagement in a disaster response in Vietnam, being on stand-by for 24 hours at a time to provide information from the field to her head office and then back again. This experience led Hoa to becoming an ASEAN-ERAT member, a programme that she sees the importance of, particularly within the ARF Disaster Relief Exercises (ARF DiRex). “I learned so much from these exercises” she states, “particularly related to the civil-military components”.
Hoa’s experience has been a value asset to disaster management in Vietnam, and conversely she has also witnessed the ongoing improvement of disaster management within her country. “Previously we mainly focused on emergency response, but now we are developing some prevention and mitigation programmes” she tells. When she started with Vietnam’s NDMO, prevention and mitigation were basically not much, but things have changed remarkably in the last ten years. Hoa and her office now engage on preparedness programme development with international organisations, alongside efforts in community disaster management, and increased integration, mobilisation and contributions from local authorities. “We also developed a National programme on public awareness rising and community based disaster management for Vietnam, and in 2013 we formalised a law on disaster prevention and mitigation” says Hoa.
Achieving this has not been void of challenges for Hoa and her counterparts, particularly regarding awareness-raising efforts for the rural communities in Vietnam. “Because of our topography, each region has its own characteristic of disaster” she explains, “so the information and how we deliver it can be very different”. Hoa also recognises the different awareness levels and approaches required for the variety of societal groups that make-up Vietnam, including intricacies related to gender, socio-economic status, and also indigenous groups. To overcome such challenges, Hoa believes it is important to promote disaster awareness and preparedness to all people, at all times, particularly for outer-lying communities. Not only in the disaster time, but also in the normal time. “We should maintain communication not only on a national level, but also on a local level” Hoa states. “If people are aware, they can be more prepared and lessen the impact of disaster that can sometimes be amplified due to their remoteness.”
Hoa’s experience of the transformation in disaster management is not limited to Vietnam alone – but is a phenomenon she has seen transpiring across the ASEAN region. Increased awareness, resources and funding have supported the development and advancement of preparedness and mitigation activities, while importantly still ensuring the strengthening of disaster response mechanisms. Much of this advancement, according to Hoa, is due to the establishment of the ASEAN Agreement on Disaster Management and Emergency Response (AADMER). “This base legal document allows us all in the region to facilitate and work together – it is the backbone for our cooperation.” Hoa also recognises the value in both formal institutions such as the AHA Centre, as well as the informal connections that the ASEAN disaster management movement has created across the region.
“If we need something, we can ask someone from the AHA Centre, or as a country we also already have the network to reach-out for information or support.”
Written by : William Shea | Photo : AHA Centre
MR.HARLAN V. HALE
Mr. Harlan Hale, the Regional Advisor for Disaster Response and Risk Reduction for USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance, is one of the world’s most experienced and renowned humanitarian logistics and disaster risk reduction experts. Spending over thirty years working on the ground with both natural disasters and human induced conflicts has equipped him with the vast array of knowledge required to advise his many colleagues in the USAID and other U.S. Government Agencies. His working experiences include many natural disasters and conflicts across the world, including the Kosovo conflict in Eastern Europe, Rwandan conflict in Africa and the Padang earthquake in Indonesia just to name a few.
Starting out over thirty years ago as a volunteer with the US Peace Corps, Mr. Hale learned quickly the importance of logistics and transportation for people’s livelihoods. He experienced the reality of limited transportation in Central Africa, resulting in adverse impacts on prices of goods, access to vaccination and health services, and low levels of trade between cities. Through this, he concluded that if he could choose to change one thing to cause a large-scale impact, it would be the enhancement of transportation and logistics in the region.
After some time working in transportation and logistics, Mr. Hale saw the impact that natural disaster was having on his work and the communities around him, and felt some of such disasters and their affects could be avoided or at least mitigated. Considering this, he raises the analogy of a young fire-fighter who “will focus on extinguishing the fire again and again. However, as time goes by, he may start to ask, ‘why did the building catch fire in the first place?’” These experiences saw Mr. Hale’s work begin transitioning into Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR). Such realisations and experiences, through his long journey of different nations and regions, now sees him working as a Regional Advisor for Disaster Response and Risk Reduction for the USAID office based in Jakarta, Indonesia.
Mr. Hale sees his current role as being aimed at enabling other people to do things. He advises US missions, embassies, USAID in the region, the office in Washington, UN agency partners, implementing NGOs and “practically anybody who asks,” he says. When a disaster strikes, Mr. Hale and his team will assess the situation, then advise whether US assistance is required and welcomed. Mr. Hale prioritises practical and technical support, preferring boots on the ground in order to support the needs of the affected population. He identifies the importance of finding gaps and determining how such gaps can be filled. Alongside this, Mr. Hale highlights the importance of investigating alternative support ideas such as cash-based assistance, which he feels provides more flexibility and opportunity for communities to define and fulfil their own specific needs after a response. Such ideas and opportunities are an area that he constantly addresses during his consulting work.
His move from Africa to Asia formed a major challenge and transition for Mr. Hale, with one of the largest and influential factors on his new role formed by the enormity of Asia’s population. “With this level of population density, no matter what takes place, the scale and impact will be huge” he says. “In Africa, the population was smaller, and there were a lot of open spaces.” “In our region things are more complex” Mr. Hale continues. “The people are much more diverse and with different needs.”
For Southeast Asia itself, as one of the most disaster-prone regions in the world, Mr. Hale sees an increasing awareness towards disaster risk reduction, particularly within the region’s governments. He highlights the positives of ASEAN’s economic growth, while also remaining wary that such growth increases the threat of having ‘more to lose’. “Buildings, facilities, transportation, and many other things can be destroyed in a natural disaster” he reminds us. “People should start investing more in DRR to prevent huge economic losses.” DRR activities can help communities become more self-reliant by giving them the tools and training to better withstand the impacts of disasters. Within this Mr. Hale highlights the importance of DRR being undertaken not only at government level, but importantly on an individual level as well.
Teamwork forms one of Mr. Hale’s key aspects when identifying impact within disaster response efforts. Strong teamwork, with strong team members, is much more likely to have positive results than individuals ‘trying to save the world’. Strong teams can also result in more positive experiences for a team’s members, as Mr. Hale has witnessed the support and influence that strong teams can have on decreasing stress and sharing the array of challenges that arise during responses. He also highlights the important role of women within responses across all levels, and the need to continue the drive for more gender balance and women’s empowerment within the disaster management field.
Through his time in the ASEAN region, Mr. Hale has also recognised the importance in the cooperation between NDMOs of ASEAN nations and their work through the AHA Centre as a significant step forward for disaster management in the region. The commitment and engagement of each NDMO shows a desire to learn from one another and from outside, which he believes will surely result in increased capacity throughout ASEAN disaster management practices. He also highlighted the importance of unity within ASEAN, especially the idea of support being provided by the region when one of its nations is affected by disaster. He says that ASEAN nations are like neighbours, or even families, and that families always help each other out, with the ASEAN region representing one giant family overall.
Written by : Christella Feni, William Shea | Photo : USAID, AHA Centre
MR. KENNETH MAK
A 15-year veteran with the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF), Mr. Kenneth Mak became an ASEAN Emergency Response and Assessment Team (ASEAN-ERAT) member after participating in the 6th training in 2016. His current work with the SCDF’s HazMat (Hazardous Materials) department has strengthened the capacity of ASEAN-ERAT to undertake their work, particularly in response to the dumpsite fires in Myanmar earlier this year. In an interview with The Column, Kenneth offered some unique insights regarding the Myanmar response, the ASEAN-ERAT programme, and similarities between the SCDF and other ASEAN bodies regarding disaster management.
The Myanmar dumpsite fires of late April/early May, 2018 were Kenneth’s first deployment with ASEAN-ERAT, as the region called upon his specialised background related to hazardous materials in response to the disaster. With the impact of the ongoing fires beginning to have a significant impact on nearby communities, Kenneth deployed with other ASEAN-ERAT members to provide expertise on controlling and extinguishing the fires, as well as provide support related to health effects that were increasing during the disaster. “The main request from Yangon city was that they were looking for a firefighting and hazard specialist to give recommendations on the operations. This is basically what I do –firefighting and hazardous material operations – so I was quite comfortable” remembers Kenneth. The context of this being a human-induced disaster is not lost on him either, as he states “Myanmar dumpsite fire was unique compared with other responses, because it was not only a natural disaster, but a fire incident – a first for the AHA Centre and also a first for ERAT deployment”.
Joining the ASEAN-ERAT programme has been an interesting experience for Kenneth, as it has allowed him to engage further with disaster response across the region. While the Myanmar dumpsite response stands as his maiden engagement thus far, Kenneth highlights the importance and relevance of the training undertaken upon joining the ASEAN-ERAT programme. The overall authenticity of the field exercise that forms a significant part of the programme training is a key highlight for Kenneth, preparing participants for deployment within a context that is as ‘real’ as possible. “Sometimes we thought that during the training the scenario that was given to us was actually real. It is a true reflection of what was going to happen. The training actually geared us up very well before the deployment” Kenneth remembers.
Similarities between his work with the SCDF and now as an ASEAN-ERAT member are particularly notable for Kenneth. He notes the reality that often there is a link between industrial or human-influenced disasters and natural disasters. “We have to realise that many environmental emergencies may be indirectly caused by natural disasters, such as earthquake or flood”, he states. Kenneth also sees strong similarities between the responses undertaken by companies for industrial disasters, and natural disaster responses implemented by local governments. For industrial disaster responses, it is the companies who most understand their surrounding environment and the situation at hand, and this is mirrored by the role of local governments within a regional natural disaster response. “We need to work with the local government so they understand the risks they are facing, and if anything happens, support the development of a contingency plan for response”, he says. “The government holds a similar role to companies who are the engaged in the disaster site, as they know the premises well, and they know what they are handling”.
“We need to work with the local government so they know the risks they are facing, and if anything happens, support the development of a contingency plan for response”, he says. They are similar to a company, as “they are the nearest, they know the premises well, and they know what they are handling”.
Overall, the value of ASEAN-ERAT, and the role of the AHA Centre, is a key highlight for Kenneth. “I think in terms of relevancy of ERAT, I think it is unique. Because you know there are 10 ASEAN countries and we have enjoyed a close working relationship. We are familiar to ASEAN cultures too”, he says. This is where the role of such programmes and institutions are key – “So, when we go to the affected country, they are willing to accept us more readily because we are engaging with each other more frequently”. Kenneth finishes by considering the future, and the role of ASEAN-ERAT both regionally and internationally.
“Over the years, we will build out our expertise, in terms of ERAT response. We will build and can share our own experience that is unique to us”.
Written by : Valerie Bayhon, William Shea | Photo : AHA Centre, personal archive