Participants at a United Nations-backed meeting that wrapped up today in Bangkok have agreed that the need to “build back better” and a focus on disaster risk reduction should be key elements of the post-Cyclone Nargis recovery process in Myanmar.
Some 2.4 million people were affected by the cyclone, which battered the country in early May, leaving around 140,000 dead or missing and displacing 800,000 from their homes.
The two-day meeting in the Thai capital brought together Myanmar’s partners and disaster response experts, and drew from previous natural disasters such as the 2004 Asian tsunami, the 2005 Pakistan earthquake and Cyclone Sidr, which struck Bangladesh in 2007.
Noeleen Heyzer, Executive Secretary of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), which organized the meeting along with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), said that the experience of the Asia-Pacific region would undoubtedly contribute to the formulation of recovery strategies for Myanmar and other future natural disasters.
While an effective early warning mechanism is one critical part of any sound disaster management approach, she emphasized that early action was also needed to turn early warning into real disaster preparedness.
She added that the outcomes of the meeting would feed into the Post-Nargis Recovery and Preparedness Plan (PONREPP), the ongoing review conducted by the Tripartite Core Group (TCG) – consisting of the UN, ASEAN and the Government of Myanmar – as well as the ASEAN-UN Summit to be held in Thailand in mid-December.
Myanmar’s Deputy Minister U Kyaw Thu, who is also the Chairman of the TCG, said the meeting provided “an opportunity for those who are involved in the post-Nargis recovery efforts to learn from the experience, although painfully gained, of those who have been on a similar path in order to put together a comprehensive and effective early-, medium- and long-term strategy.”
ASEAN’s Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan agreed, expressing the hope that the information exchanged at the meeting will enhance the capacity of the region, as well as add to the lessons learned which can then be translated into practical action. “If we are not prepared, we will be in deeper trouble the next time around,” he warned.
The gathering is one of a series of regional expert group meetings to be convened by ESCAP on recovery and reconstruction issues in post-cyclone Myanmar, following on Ms. Heyzer’s visits to the country in May and June.
Ms. Heyzer indicated that ESCAP was committed to continue to host such dialogues, and that the next one would be held with donors so as to encourage increased assistance to fill critical funding gaps.
As of early October, nearly half of the $482 million appeal launched in July to aid Myanmar’s cyclone victims remained unfunded.