Pidato Surin Pitsuwan tentang penanggulangan bencana pada KTT ASEM ke-7

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Mr. Chairman,
Your Majesty,
Presidents,
Prime Ministers,
Heads of National Delegation,

The ASEAN Secretariat is very grateful and honoured to participate for the first time in this August Forum of ASEM.

As you mentioned in the opening statement, Mr. Chairman, East Asia has been facing natural disasters in increasing frequency. The Sichuan Earthquake in Western China caused 80,000 victims while the Cyclone Nargis which struck the Irrawaddy Delta in Myanmar claimed 136,000 victims.

As we are prudently prepared for future disasters, we in the region, particularly ASEAN, are taking stock of our experiences and are enhancing our regional capacity to deal with them.

Soon after the tsunami of 2004, the ASEAN Member States entered into an agreement called the ASEAN Agreement on Disaster Management and Emergency Response (AADMER). We set up the ASEAN Centre for Humanitarian Assistance (AHA), and strengthen the region wide network in every capital of ASEAN for disaster management and response.

It was this AHA that sprang into action hot on the tail of Cyclone Nargis. They are the ones who secured in and carried out damage assessment and proposal to the ASEAN Foreign Ministers to set up a mechanism called the ASEAN Humanitarian Task Force (AHTF) for the Victims of Cyclone Nargis. For the purpose of day-to-day operation on the ground in Yangon – the Tripartite Core Group (TCG) was created.

Putting the jigsaw together in the face of lack of mutual confidence, fear, doubts, xenophobia and reservation for engagement, ASEAN had to rise above those hurdles of doubt and mistrust. We ourselves needed to be certain that Myanmar was willing to welcome the world, and the international community was willing and ready to join us in the “Coalition of Mercy”.

On 25 May 2008 we held the ASEAN-UN International Pledging Conference in Yangon, many of ASEM Member States joined us. ASEAN was able to open a humanitarian space—provided a diplomatic umbrella for humanitarian relief.

And I want to thank China for her full assistance in this concerted effort to raise a higher level of comfort on all parties—Myanmar, ASEAN and the International Community through the United Nations System. 

Responsibility to protect or human security doctrine or the principle of non-interference—all these were elements that can both be helpful and at the same time obstructive or restrictive to our humanitarian response. That was a challenge for diplomacy.

But ASEAN has succeeded. ASEAN has facilitated full access and coordinated the delivery of relief aids and early recovery assistance to the victims of cyclone Nargis. 2.4 million people were being helped. To this end, I wish to thank ASEAN’s friends—Norway, UK, Sweden, Australia, US, China, Japan and others for their timely support and assistance rendered to ASEAN in its humanitarian efforts.

Every time, I travelled to the cyclone Nargis affected areas, it was heart breaking to see them suffer. But, at the same time, it was also an inspiration to see in their eyes a steely spirit and an unwavering will and determination to pick the wreckage of the ruins and move on. It is a challenge for us now to reach those 2.4 million.  We provided a diplomatic umbrella to the world. But what is the use of such umbrella if there are no activities under it. Providing support and assistance to the people in need is the task and responsibility of the international community.

OCHA said it needs more funds and more resources. We need your help.

ASEAN welcomes your proposal, Mr. Chairman, on setting up a mechanism to exchange information and experiences and share technology and management skills and disaster capacity building for ASEM Member States. With them, our capacity for disaster preparedness will be enhanced.

Here in ASEAN, potentially we can join hands, looking beyond early recovery and humanitarian relief for the victims of Cyclone Nargis in the Irrawaddy Delta. But we should look beyond to the rehabilitation of the entire Delta itself to restore it to its former glory as the rice bowl of Asia.

This will not only release pressure on food security to the Myanmese people or Southeast Asia, but the entire international community too will benefit from additional food products coming from the Delta of the Irrawaddy.

And that is a true challenge for all of us to turn a crisis into an opportunity, the suffering to prosperity, and mistrust to mutual confidence. ASEAN is ready to provide that diplomatic umbrella for such a challenge.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.