SINGAPORE: The ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on Disaster Management (AHA Centre) will be designated as the regional body to respond to disasters, both within and outside Southeast Asia, Singapore Minister for Home Affairs K Shanmugam said on Friday (Aug 18).
The centre, headquartered in Jakarta, is currently responsible for facilitating cooperation and coordination among member states in the event of natural disasters.
Set up in 2011, the centre has played a leading role in managing responses to disasters such as the 2016 Banda Aceh earthquake and the Philippines' Typhoon Haiyan in 2013.
Most recently, it helped to fly emergency relief items to conflict-torn Marawi in the southern Philippines, with the support of the Malaysian government.
"Insofar as our help is needed, AHA Centre will coordinated it - whether inside Southeast Asia or outside," said Mr Shanmugam at the third ASEAN strategic policy dialogue on disaster management.
Part of the centre's work has also been to facilitate cooperating among ASEAN, the United Nations and other international organisations, and Mr Shanmugam said this collaboration has been key to enhancing the region's ability to respond to disasters.
"Very few countries can on their own fully address disaster risks and rebuild their communities after major disasters," Mr Shanmugam noted. "Our partnerships in ASEAN and our collaboration with the UN ... have tangibly helped advance the ability to deal with disasters, manage them and help people on the ground."
ASEAN-UN PARTNERSHIP AN "IMPORTANT RELATIONSHIP": SHANMUGAM
Mr Shanmugam called the ASEAN-UN partnership an "important relationship", with cooperation having grown stronger since the ASEAN and UN Joint Strategic Plan of Action on Disaster Management was signed five years ago.
He cited the example of the UN World Food Programme, which has helped the AHA Centre to manage its first regional warehouse in Subang, Malaysia.
The warehouse supplies emergency relief items such as tents for temporary shelter and basic necessities to sites affected by disasters in the region.
Mr Shanmugam also said that two new satellite warehouses would be set up in Thailand and the Philippines.
"With more stakeholders on board, we can put in place more projects to operationalise the ASEAN Agreement on Disaster Management and Emergency Response," Mr Shanmugam said.
The annual dialogue, which was held in conjunction with World Humanitarian Day, aims to provide a platform for ASEAN to discuss and strengthen its capabilities in disaster management.
This year's dialogue centred on collaboration between ASEAN and the UN in disaster management, as well as future policy and operational engagement.
The event was co-organised by the Singapore Civil Defence Force, ASEAN Secretariat and the AHA Centre.
It was attended by around 150 participants, including ambassadors and representatives from the UN, private sector and non-governmental organisations.
World Humanitarian Day was first designated by the UN General Assembly in 2003 to recognise humanitarian workers helping those in disaster-prone areas, people in distress and those in need.