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ASEAN disaster management conference opens

Hun Sen addresses a conference on ASEAN disaster management in Phnom Penh yesterday.
Hun Sen addresses a conference on ASEAN disaster management in Phnom Penh yesterday. Facebook

ASEAN disaster management conference opens

Prime Minister Hun Sen and Foreign Minister Hor Namhong called for further regional cooperation in disaster response and adaptation to climate change at the third ASEAN Ministerial Meeting on Disaster Management, held at the Cambodiana Hotel in Phnom Penh yesterday.

Delivering the opening remarks, the prime minister called for the finalisation of a common ASEAN strategy for disaster response, currently drafted as “One ASEAN, One Response”.

“In order to achieve our goal of turning ASEAN into a region that is resilient to disaster . . . we must step up regional solidarity and cooperation,” reads a transcript of the premier’s remarks.

Noting the vulnerability to natural disasters of the ASEAN region and Typhoon Melor’s recent impact on the Philippines, Hun Sen framed the importance of regional disaster management “in the context of [the] rising threat from climate change”.

Philip Sen, advocacy and communications coordinator with ActionAid, who attended the meeting yesterday, noted that “the links are being made between disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation in the wake of COP21”, the UN climate talks which concluded in Paris on Saturday with the signing of a “historic” international agreement.

In his closing remarks at yesterday’s conference, Deputy Prime Minister Hor Namhong repeatedly referenced COP21, and even asserted that the Kingdom’s traditional food staple, the salted fish paste prahok, was imperilled by “the grave effect of climate change and its adversities on the Tonle Sap lake”.

Namhong also hoped for progress in advancing “AADMER Vision 2025”, which would extend the agenda for the ASEAN Agreement on Disaster Management and Emergency Response beyond this year. AADMER is a regional framework that since 2009 has allowed for regional coordination in the deployment of disaster response and prevention.

According to Southeast Asia expert Carlyle Thayer, of the University of New South Wales, “ASEAN alone is incapable” of coping with natural disasters, but further regional integration and steps to remove bureaucratic obstacles were welcome developments.

Entering into disaster response agreements ahead of time, he continued, allows ASEAN countries – many of which are touchy about issues of sovereignty – to accept help from foreign militaries while saving face at home.

“It’s pooled sovereignty – the best way to protect your people in natural disasters is to get help from other countries . . . [but] you’re upholding national sovereignty nevertheless,” he said.

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