Hurricane Sandy in late October disrupted the US economy in dramatic ways, stalling mass transport, closing businesses, and leaving millions without power. The damage will exceed US$20 billion, causing hardship that will be felt on a global scale.
For the first time since 1888, trading on the New York Stock Exchange was suspended for two days, incurring losses in the tens of millions of dollars in revenues. New York’s three major airports were also shut down, grounding 13,500 flights and adding to the economic toil.
The impact of any large-scale disasters is palpable and its enduring effects often go beyond domestic borders, especially in an interdependent world.
In Southeast Asia, last year’s tropical storm Nock-ten triggered massive flooding along the Mekong and Chao Phraya river basins, which inundated 65 of Thailand’s 77 provinces and also affected parts of Vietnam. The floods forced factories and schools to be shut down and cost Thailand an estimated US$45.7 billion in damages.
Other catastrophes in the region — such as the 2008 earthquake in China’s Sichuan province, the 2010 earthquake in Chile, and the 2011 earthquakes in New Zealand and Japan — have also cost Apec economies greatly, both on the economic and human scale.
Apec members are, unfortunately, well-acquainted with such devastating events. In fact, the Asia-Pacific region experiences over 70% of the world’s natural disasters. Around 40% of the world’s population, or nearly 2.7 billion people, also live in the Apec region.
Building resilience to disasters is therefore not only critical for Apec economies, but is essential to the lives and livelihoods of the billions living across the vast region.
In 2005, Apec formed a group specifically to coordinate and facilitate emergency preparedness and disaster risk reduction within its member economies in direct response to the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that deeply affected much of Thailand, Indonesia and other parts of the world.
The Apec Emergency Preparedness Working Group brings together government officials from the region’s various emergency services departments to build its members’ capacity to better mitigate, prepare for, respond to, and recover from emergencies and natural disasters.
Being fully aware of Apec’s core trade and investment mission, and its resource limitations, the group’s efforts are designed to complement, but not duplicate, the work of other international organisations that deal with disaster relief.
The key word here is “preparedness” and the group is readying its members to deal with future emergencies. This is done primarily by focusing on building the resilience of businesses and communities and fostering closer ties with the private sector to protect business, trade and economic activities from disruption.
In October, at the sixth Apec Senior Disaster Management Officials’ Forum held in Vladivostok, Russia, regional experts learned how to integrate state-of-the-art technologies with disaster management systems, such as monitoring and forecasting. They also shared lessons learned from recent large-scale disasters, including last year’s earthquakes in Christchurch and Sendai.
Indeed these major catastrophes are critical reminders of the importance of Apec’s emergency preparedness work. Regional cooperation therefore needs to be strengthened so that all Apec economies are better able to acquire the needed knowledge to implement life-saving actions.
Learning from past disasters is a very important component for emergency preparedness.
Last August, a workshop for government officials and businesspeople that strengthened private sector preparedness during emergencies was conducted in Sendai, Japan.
Participants from both the public and private sectors shared case studies and specific methods, practices and tools for business continuity planning in times of crises. In 2012, through cross-cutting collaboration with the Apec Small and Medium Enterprises Working Group and an Australia-led workshop, the outcomes are aiming at building guidelines for business continuity planning to boost public-private partnership.
Similarly, recognising that hundreds of millions of children across the Apec region are going to schools in high seismic risk areas, another workshop was conducted last October in Taiwan to improve school earthquake and tsunami safety by making use of international guidelines.
Going forward, more groundbreaking projects will be held in the coming months. One will work to enhance networking among crisis management centres through information sharing first, while another joint project, with the Apec Transport Working Group, will seek to reduce the adverse impacts of disasters on the global supply chain and improve its resilience.
The Apec Emergency Preparedness Working Group is expanding on Apec’s original trade and investment liberalisation agenda to reflect current priorities, meet the immediate needs of communities, businesses and economies, and achieve secure growth for all. Essentially the safety and security of our people underpins all economic activities. These are the necessary conditions for the further development of our economies. Business and trade remain critically vulnerable, unless Apec economies can, through the group’s collective efforts, continually build up their resilience to emergencies and better prepare themselves against disasters.
Dr Li Wei-Sen is the Co-Chair of the Apec Emergency Preparedness WorkingGroup
About the author
Writer: Dr Li Wei-Sen