It’s befitting that the issue of disaster management was highlighted at the recent 35th UNESCO general conference in Paris since it served as one ideal platform to remind the world community of the challenges which natural disasters posed and the consequences of inaction. It’s noteworthy that the Malaysian Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak took the mantle to sound the clarion for collective action on managing natural disasters. There has been numerous wake-up calls given by various quarters notably international aid agencies, disaster management institutions and practitioners, yet it somehow got lost in the milieu of challenges and issues at hand. Inclusion of climate change and disaster management in his keynote address at the conference was timely and opportune coming in the wake of the string of natural disasters which affected some Asian countries.
The call to action was clearly intimated when he stated that “We have to
manage some of the natural disasters that occur in our regions” prior to the conference. (i) His thrust on climate change and in the same spirit, disaster management, resonates well with those international agencies and institutions already deeply involved in providing humanitarian assistance to recent disasters in the region. At the conference , the Malaysian Prime Minister aptly drove home the point that climate change posed a major challenge to the present generation and not just those in the distant future. Its impact was clearly illustrated through the recent experience with major natural disasters and catastrophes, including the earthquake in Padang, Indonesia, tsunami in Western Samoa, hurricanes in the Philippines and the major floods in Southern India. These calamities remind us on how fragile the world is, and how interdependent our world has become. (ii)
The emphasis is on sustaining the quality of life for mankind for future generations, and focussing on need for a strong global commitment and action to address the adverse effects of climate change. In essence, our survival rests on the world community’s willingness to address disaster management challenges and related issues collectively and with concerted will. He has long recognized that countries beset with natural disasters should expedite steps to mitigate the impact of disasters and with the increasing magnitude of calamities faced, it behooves comprehensive collective action. It’s rare indeed to see a leader showing a sustained and avid interest in disaster management and this is clearly reflected in Datuk Seri Najib’s purposeful tabling of the issue at such forum. Throughout his tenure as a Minister of Defence and Deputy Prime Minister, he has on several occasions been on the forefront of promoting initiatives in that direction. In June 2006, during a high-level security forum in Singapore, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak called for the setting up of a regional based humanitarian relief centre to be mobilized in the event of disaster. The call for collective action on disaster management is not new. Yet, inititiatives in this area is seldom seen vested in the leadership nor governments. At the 7th Asian Security Summit , held in June 2007, at the heels of natural disasters which befall Myanmar and the People’s Republic of China, he called for collective action, with initiatives for the former spear-headed by ASEAN ( Association of South-East Asian Nations). Datuk Najib subscribed to the idea that disaster risk should be taken seriously and the severity of natural disasters impact on lives and livelihoods as well as the development of nations could no longer be ignored and. Grounded as an economist, he recognized that marginal investment in incorporating hazard resistance could have protected property and assets. Without appropriate mitigating measures, development achieved over years of investment could be completely wiped out in a natural disaster. Acknowledging that vulnerability rest with the communities at the ground level, building effectiveness of disaster management at the community level was of utmost importance since local needs and risks could be adequately assessed and managed. Highlighting disaster risk reduction measures, he placed emphasis on community based initiatives to minimize vulnerabilities. He fully recognized the wider collective responsibility of stakeholders and the importance of partnership in handling disaster risk reduction.
At that stage he was already pronouncing consideration to incorporate
disaster risk reduction elements in new development plans and ensuring community resilience in facing natural hazards. Integrating disaster risk reduction into plans, programmes, and development projects together with developing or modifying policies, laws, and organizational arrangements are aspects which need to be undertaken, according to him. The negative economic implications on development arising from natural disasters are enormous. Datuk Najib reiterated the Malaysian government’s commitment to disaster risk reduction through continuing its efforts towards implementing the priority areas of the Hyogo Framework for Action. In addressing disaster management, the Malaysian government since the 1990s had put into place policy, infrastructure and operational mechanisms to ensure coordination and partnership with all pertinent stakeholders.
With human catastrophe resulting from natural disasters reaching similar level of conflict situations, calamities certainly deserve collective attention and action. (iv) It’s hightime that governments and the leadership take the lead in disaster management. It’s heartwarming when leadership is perceived to grasp the elements and dynamics of disaster management and taking a proactive stand.
(i) BERNAMA. October 05, 2009. Najib To Raise Natural Disaster Issues At Unesco . Leslean Arshad.
(ii) New Straits Times . Wednesday, October 07, 2009, 12.03 PM. Prime Minister’s speech at the 35th Unesco General Conference in Paris.
(iii) The Star Online . The Star, June 4, 2006. Malaysia calls for regional humanitarian relief centre.
(iv) The 7th IISS Asian Security Summit Shangri-La Dialogue . Singapore. Sunday 1 June 2007. Restoring Peace in Complex Emergencies.