Senior disaster management officials from APEC member economies are intensifying regional cooperation in a bid to build a more resilient disaster risk reduction amidst the current pandemic, climate change and other exposures.
“Member economies have gained so much experience in terms of effectively responding to major disasters and dealing with risks on multiple fronts,” explained Xiaoning Zhang, co-chair of the APEC Emergency Preparedness Working Group.
“However, we need to improve our risk disaster governance to fit the current situation by encouraging risk-informed development strategies, improving disaster risk monitoring and early warning capacity for better risk identification so that we can response more comprehensively,” he added.
On top of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the region is continuing to experience high losses from a number of various natural events from typhoon, cyclones and floods to earthquakes, landslides, disease epidemics and plagues.
According to recent data presented at the APEC Senior Disaster Management Officials Forum in late May, total damages in the APEC region reached USD 116.9 billion in 2020. These costs have yet to include the amount for COVID-19 pandemic, which will be a complex exercise to uncover.
In the forum last month, APEC member economies shared disaster risk reduction policies and measures that are being implemented to manage the pandemic including emergency declarations, mask mandates, new guidelines and protocols for managing evacuation centers as well as new protocols for crossing borders amid travel restrictions.
Despite all that, challenges remain high. The region’s emergency management capability and capacity has been stretched to unprecedented levels, making the reliance on local communities more important than ever before.
Members are looking at collective investment in resilience measures across the region, including empowering local communities to act during disaster, especially when there are lockdown measures that prevent workers like first responders from travel.
In her keynote remarks at the forum, Jenna Rogers of the New Zealand National Emergency Management Emergency highlighted that events such as COVID-19 showcase how vulnerable the region is to these complex hazards.
“Complex hazards, both known and unknown, exacerbate risks for the region,” Rogers said. “Therefore, it necessitates collective investment in resilience measures and cooperation across APEC to protect the economies.”
“Disasters are a significant contingent liability for our prosperity, our economic growth and development aspirations at all levels and we need to be smarter at reducing the impacts and costs from these disasters as we are experiencing exacerbated frequency and severity of natural hazards as a result of climate change,” she added.
“Disaster reduction is a cross-cutting issue in our economy,” said Koji Suzuki, co-chair of the APEC Emergency Preparedness Working Group. “We must empower our communities, promote a whole-society approach to ensure everyone has a role to play in building disaster resilience.”
“It is crucial for member economies to develop joint strategies between government agencies and the private sector, as well as foster more international cooperation to track progress, build trust and share best practices in managing and reducing risks in the region,” Suzuki added.