By Denis McClean
Cyclones, earthquakes, floods and drought combined with poverty have spurred the Myanmar government into complete acceptance of the need for a radical overhaul of its approach to disaster management and risk reduction.
Speaking on International Day for Disaster Reduction, Myanmar Vice-President, Dr. Sai Mauk Kham, pointed to the progress that has been made in the two years since Cyclone Nargis found the country largely unprepared for a disaster of such magnitude.
He highlighted the difference in approach when Cyclone Giri hit Rakhine State in October 2010 also causing a lot of damage to housing and people’s livelihoods but the impact was mitigated to some degree by better preparedness and collaboration on reconstruction between the government, regional government, UN agencies, international and local NGOs.
“One significant point is that, based on the experience of Cyclone Nargis, the number of deaths and loss could be reduced although the Cyclone Giri was violent, because of effective preparedness when the cyclone warning was received,” he said.
Vice-President Kham also claimed rapid action in search and rescue, relief, recovery and reconstruction work following the earthquake which struck Eastern Shan State in March 2011. Similarly, he pointed to a “multi-stakeholder” approach to the rehabilitation of the agricultural sector which has been heavily impacted by monsoon floods this year.
He said: “It is important to link up the disaster risk reduction endeavours with poverty alleviation programmes so as not to hinder development tasks. Myanmar is cooperating with global and regional partners in disaster risk reduction to become a disaster resilient country.”
He also re-stated Myanmar’s commitment to implementing the Hyogo Framework for Action 2005-2015: Building the Resilience of Nations and Communities to Disasters which is a blue print for measures which will reduce mortality and economic losses from disasters. In April this year Myanmar re-organized its Disaster Preparedness Agency and also established a National Search and Rescue Committee.
Last month UNISDR Chief, Margareta Wahlström paid her second visit to Myanmar this year. She spent four days meeting with government officials, representatives of civil society including the Engineers Society of Myanmar, the Chamber of Commerce, local leaders and community representatives in the cyclone coastal belt.
She said: “The country may lack capacity but there is a strong and serious commitment to disaster risk reduction from the highest level to the local level.”
The government agreed to implement the disaster risk reduction plan that was drawn up following Cyclone Nargis two years ago, during a series of meetings with UNISDR which also reviewed new disaster management and environmental protection laws. The government is also keen to introduce a programme for ensuring safer schools and health facilities.
Wahlström said: “It was a very useful visit and it is clear from our meetings with senior government officials that the lessons from Cyclone Nargis two years ago have been learned and a considerable effort is being made to put those lessons into practice.
“We reviewed the new disaster management law and UNISDR made some suggestions for more emphasis on disaster risk reduction alongside disaster preparedness and response. UNISDR is particularly pleased at the emphasis being placed on hazard risk-mapping and the work being undertaken to introduce a national building code for seismic risk. There is now agreement to implement the disaster risk reduction plan which was developed by the government and the UN following Cyclone Nargis.”
Myanmar also continues to be an active member of the ASEAN (Association of South-East Asian Nations) Committee on Disaster Management and has also signed and ratified the ground-breaking ASEAN Agreement on Disaster Management and Emergency Response.