In the last issue, I wrote about the impact of the Japan earthquake on business in Asia from the business perspective. In a 2008 fDi article, I wrote that disaster mitigation measures have rarely been attempted in most Asian countries. These include constructing earthquake and cyclone-resistant buildings and infrastructure, flood and landslide-control measures, as well as the incorporation of disaster vulnerability into land-use planning, and the introduction of regulatory measures in industrialised zones.

From a governmental perspective on crisis management, policies are drawn up to address mostly flooding and housing, with increasing co-operation between governments and non-governmental organisations (NGOs), as well as the growing role of NGOs and community volunteers. However, few sector plans are drawn up to address logistics, supply chain management and transportation issues for businesses.

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To the UN’s credit, it has established its United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The UNDP in turn has a Crisis Prevention and Recovery Unit, which is part of its 'policy and programmes' directorate. In principle, the UNDP’s operations manager and logistics specialists provide long-term assistance to support countries’ capacity building. However, the effectiveness of this assistance is another issue, as it depends on countries’ resource commitment and implementation.

Asia's regional bodies for disaster management include the Asian Disaster Preparedness Center (ADPC) in Thailand. Its disaster management systems team focuses on strengthening institutional capacities for disaster risk management of countries of the region, mostly for flooding and safer housing. The ADPC reports that methods of implementation of disaster reduction efforts vary in Asia due to different forms of local governance and the level of accountability to the civil society.

In south-east Asia, co-operation in disaster management is institutionalised through the Association of South-East Asian Nations (Asean) Experts Group on Disaster Management, which meets every two years to discuss issues and share experiences on disaster prevention, mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery, and recommend actions that member countries can undertake.

The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) is another regional body. For many years, there was no significant development on the issue of disaster management at regional level except for environmental preservation. However, there is progress. In July 2009, it set up a Natural Disaster Rapid Response Mechanism. On May 25, 2011, SAARC delegates met at an inter-governmental meeting to finalise the text of the draft SAARC Agreement on Rapid Response to Natural Disasters.

Meanwhile, Cambodia has its National Committee for Disaster Management. Community volunteers are trained by the Red Cross on disaster preparedness, hygiene and sanitation, management of safe areas, early-warning systems, village flood-level recording, assessment of physical vulnerability of housing to flooding and possible remedial measures, and community organising.

In Pakistan, disaster management revolves around flood disasters with a primary focus on rescue and relief. Karachi Port Trust (KPT) is responsible for ensuring that the marine environment within KPT limits remains free from pollution. Discharge of pollutants is prohibited within the limits of the Karachi Port. The Emergency Relief Cell is mandated to deal only with post-disaster scenarios.

Indonesia has its National Coordinating Body for Disaster and IDP Management. The country is vulnerable to seismic activity, volcano fires and some flooding. Disaster management is still government-driven and more community-based initiatives are needed.

The Philippines has its National Disaster Coordinating Council. The NDCC aims to incorporate local resources such as structural engineers and professionals to local disaster-coordinating councils. In the Philippines, 5% of local government revenue is appropriated for relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction, and the NDCC has proposed a bill that will authorise local government units to use this local calamity fund for pre-disaster activities.

Vietnam has its Central Committee for Storm and Flood Control as well as growing government-NGO co-operation. The establishment of the Natural Disaster Mitigation Partnership for Central Vietnam in June 2001 provided a framework for the government, donors and NGOs to co-operate and coordinate disaster relief, rehabilitation and recovery efforts for the central provinces of Vietnam.

My 2008 conclusion remains valid: public-private partnerships will still play an important role in Asian disaster and disease-containment strategies. Relief assistance and donor support are still needed. Community volunteers are needed. The rising government-NGO co-operation and growing role of NGOs in disaster management has evolved from relief and emergency response to disaster mitigation and preparedness. Private companies can also donate both money and equipment to develop data networks to help governments and NGOs to coordinate quick responses to crises. Finally, sectoral plans should incorporate disaster management and involve private companies in logistics, supply chain management and transportation.

Lawrence Yeo is CEO of AsiaBIZ Strategy, a Singapore-based consultancy that provides Asia market research and investment/trade promotion services. E-mail: Lawrence@asiabizstrategy.com