Vol 42-Mr.Harlan V.Hale

/ / The Other Side


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