ASEAN prepares future leaders on disaster management

02 July 2018
By JAIF Management Team

Southeast Asia is geographically vulnerable to natural disasters. All kinds of natural disasters from floods to typhoons, earthquakes, landslides, droughts, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, among others hit the region each year causing unprecedented loss of lives and properties.

The aftermath of one of the worst floods that hit Kelantan, Malaysia in 2015
© AHA Centre
Indeed, building disaster resilient communities is a priority for ASEAN countries. Realizing this vision entails strong commitment to enhance capacities of the region’s institutions and peoples to enable it to respond together as one ASEAN. In recent years, a manifestation of this commitment is seen through the ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on disaster management (AHA Centre) Executive Programme. Better known as the ACE Programme, this innovative approach to institutional capacity development has produced four batches, totaling 62 graduates, since it officially commenced on 16 January 2014. Grace, Vimala, and Rose Ann are three of them. The ACE graduates looked back on their time in the Programme and reflected on their remarkable experiences and notable takeaways.

Mary Grace Somido, Civil Defense Officer, National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, Office of Civil Defense, Philippines

In the face of the tragic Marawi siege in the Philippines in 2017, Grace realized the value of networks she developed from the ACE Programme in ensuring that timely assistance was extended to affected communities in Marawi City and surrounding localities. “When the AHA Centre provided assistance, the coordination between me, my fellow ACE graduate from the regional office, and another ACE graduate from Malaysia was easier,” she emphasized.

Grace further reflected on what she took from the study visit in Japan, “I realize a lot of things that we can also do here, for example in Japan, they document. They have pictures of how they responded. I think that is one best practice that can be a reference, which we are trying to introduce now in the Philippines.”

Returning to her country after her stay in the Programme, Grace said in jest that she has more tasks now than the usual, especially when her principals recognise that she is an ACE graduate. Earlier in January of this year, she was deployed in Myanmar on 15 – 31 January 2018 as part of the ASEAN Emergency Response and Assessment Team (ASEAN-ERAT) and was tasked to do information management.

Grace (left) and Vimala (right) during the opening ceremony of the ACE Programme - Batch 3 in 2016
© AHA Centre
Vimala Khounthalangsy, Deputy Director, Disaster Management Division, Social Welfare Department, Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare, Lao PDR

“Before joining ACE, I know the AHA Centre and the ASEAN Committee on Disaster Management (ACDM), but I don’t know exactly what they do,” Vimala candidly shared. Certainly, the Programme’s unique feature of attaching ACE participants in the AHA Centre allows for greater exposure and more active involvement in the Centre’s operations and response as one ASEAN. Vimala expressed that knowledge of the Centre’s and other ASEAN countries’ operating requirements is very important especially when actual coordination for disaster response happens.

In addition, for Vimala, experiencing firsthand how logistics management works in the DELSA stockpile in Subang, Malaysia gave her clearer understanding on how their warehouse in Lao PDR can be managed and operated. While recognizing the challenges still ahead for her country in terms of disaster management, Vimala looks forward on how the knowledge and skills she acquired and the networks she established through the ACE Programme can trickle down to her organization.

Maria Rose Ann Estrella Pondevida, Civil Defense Officer, National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, Office of Civil Defense, Philippines

In the case of Rose Ann, she particularly took to heart her learning from the leadership training in New Zealand. “Because the Programme is about preparing future leaders, I can now apply all the learnings since greater responsibilities were given to me when I came back,” said the officer.

Rose Ann (Batch 4) receives her certificate of completion from the University of Canterbury in New Zealand.
© AHA Centre
Like Grace and Vimala, Rose Ann cannot emphasize enough the positive benefits of the network she developed with fellow ACE graduates. More than a very-well maintained social media chat group, Rose Ann reflected on how one is more inclined to ask for help through one’s networks when confronted with disasters. She added, “I realize we are all basically the same. I think we learned a lot whether your country is prone to disaster or not. We learn from each other’s experiences, in terms of helping and assisting other countries. Your network will help you during disasters.”

More than preparing ASEAN future leaders on disaster management through intensive and hands-on trainings, the ACE Programme prides itself with facilitating greater interconnectedness among ASEAN countries and neighboring countries, including Japan, in preparing for and responding to disasters in the region and beyond.

The ACE Programme (Batches 1-4) was part of the project “Establishment of a Disaster Emergency Logistic System for ASEAN (DELSA)” supported by the Japan-ASEAN Integration Fund (JAIF). The next batch is expected to commence in August 2018 under the project “AHA Centre Executive (ACE) Programme 2018-2020,” also supported by the JAIF.