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Alistair Cook is one of the ASEAN region’s leading academics in the disaster management field, and has been engaged with the AHA Centre and its work not long often the organisation was founded during 2011. He currently sits as a senior fellow and coordinator of the humanitarian assistance and disaster relief programme at the Centre for Non-Traditional Security (NTS Centre) at S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.

As Alistair explains, “this basically means i am in a team of five researchers that focus on humanitarian affairs in the Asia-Pacific, tracking longer-term trends, understanding localised contexts, and reflecting on past experiences to inform policymaking today and planning for the future”.

His journey to his current situation is full of experience, with Alistair arriving in Singapore in July 2009 to take on a position as a post-doctoral fellow on the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Fund Asia Security Initiative at RSIS. “At that time, the MacArthur Foundation had selected RSIS, through the leadership of the NTS Centre, as a core institution to head and lead research in Cluster 3 on Internal Challenges in 2009” Alistair explains. Prior to that, Alistair completed his PhD studies at the University of Melbourne, Australia, focused on the emergence of regional humanitarian norms in the Southeast Asian region.

When asked about his interest in researching non-traditional security issues, Alistair highlights regional disaster management mechanisms as of increasing importance. “Non-traditional security threats are issues that pose challenges to societal wellbeing, yet have varied levels of interest by decision-makers in governments and non-governmental actors compared to higher profile security issues like interstate conflict, terrorism and nuclear proliferation” Alistair tells us. He continues to explain that such NTS issues affect more people, and pose longer-term challenges to states and societies. “This is particularly important in Southeast Asia, where countries in the region face natural hazards as well as internal conflicts that threaten the safety and security of people and states” he says. Alistair then continues to explain the context of disaster management and emergency response as policy issue areas that States and societies in Southeast Asia can cooperate on for the mutual benefit of the entire region and its people. “This area of cooperation provides policymakers with insight into developing people-centric and whole-of-society approaches, and through my academic research and reflection I hope to offer insights and constructively contribute to this policy area.

Alistair also talks about the AHA Centre’s role in the region, and how he sees it into the future. “I think AHA Centre knows its strengths and is building upon them, however there is still work to be done on communicating to others on what this role is” he explains. “I imagine that stronger linkages to other relevant entities in the international community and at the sub-national level will be growth areas as we move forward to implementing the ASEAN Vision 2025 on Disaster Management.”

Finally, Alistair also highlights the future for increasing interaction between the scientific sector and decision-makers in disaster management, identifying the need for balance and understanding the value of ‘slow-burn’ research activities. “If we’re not able to take a step back and reflect on the whole picture, then it will ultimately affect our ability to be relevant and offer insights from our research” he reminds us. Alistair states that while sometimes academics are able to offer more immediate observations, their research space is an area worth protecting to allow for reflection and critical engagement with the actions, directions and trends emerging in the region over longer periods of time.

“For humanitarian affairs this is all the more important” he says, “as we’re often in a fast-paced environment with relatively little time spent to reflect on the actions and direction of the sector”.

Written by William Shea : | Photo : AHA Centre