Challenges in Asia and the Pacific

Hazard map
A man examines a hazard map in Morobe Province in Papua New Guinea. UNDP has supported many Pacific Island governments to develop disaster risk management action plans. Photo: Moortaza Jiwanji/UNDP Pacific Centre

Asia and the Pacific is highly prone to natural disasters and experiences a disproportionate share of loss of life and impact on socio-economic activities. Vulnerability to natural hazards in the region is on a rapid rise, with more than 50 major disasters of both geological and climatological origin affecting millions of people since the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004. It is widely believed that climate change will affect the frequency and severity of extreme events in the region.

While being the most populous in the world, the region is also very diverse - ethnically, culturally and linguistically. These diversities are often manifested in ethnic hostility, communal violence, and small and large scale conflicts. The potential threat of conflicts spilling across national boundaries creates the need for regional conflict resolution and peace building mechanisms to ensure long-term peace and stability as the foundation for regional progress.

The interplay between conflict and natural disasters adds further complexity to recovery and burdens national resources, with negative cumulative effects on poorer communities and least developed countries. In such settings, the vulnerabilities and exclusion faced by women and girls are further exacerbated. Manifestations of such inequality are often cited in high levels of gender-based violence, limited access to decision-making processes, and negative impacts on the ability of women to prepare for, cope with and recover from crisis.

How we address these challenges

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Mayor Romualdez briefs evacuation procedures to Tacloban residents in the Philippines in preparation for Typhoon Ruby (Hagupit) landfall in December 2014. Photo: Alfred Romualdez for UNDP Philippines

UNDP assists governments, public authorities and communities in carrying out activities to reduce disaster. It helps by strengthening institutional and legislative systems, expanding community-based disaster risk management, and supporting better planning for recovery after disasters. UNDP also provides support to integrating disaster risk reduction into development planning and building knowledge about urban risk management and climate adaptation. In high disaster-risk countries, UNDP establishes working relationships with relevant offices and local communities in order to anchor disaster risk reduction and peace building activities into development planning.

UNDP facilitates regional forums where critical policy concerns related to crisis prevention and recovery can be discussed and advocated. It also helps to connect and raise awareness among national and local level experts and officials about global policy commitments, and supports them in translating these into results on the ground.

Highlights, facts and figures

'Two-Storey village' is in the phrase that locals from the surrounding villages use to describe this disaster resilient habitat built with the support of UNDP, and designed with inputs from traditional knowledge. Photo: Akash/UNDP Bangladesh
  • Asia and the Pacific is the part of the world most vulnerable to climate change, extreme weather events and natural disasters.  According to the UNESCAP/UNISDR 2012 Asia-Pacific Disaster Report, in 2011, 80% of global losses due to disasters were borne by the region: a total of $294 billion. In addition to mega disasters like the 2004 South Asia tsunami, 2005 Pakistan earthquake, and 2008 Myanmar Cyclone, there has been extensive and damaging flooding across South Asia and East Asia almost every year.
  • With UNDP support, national disaster and loss databases are operational in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Iran, Orissa and Tamil Nadu states in India. Cambodia, Myanmar, Viet Nam and Lao PDR are establishing databases as a tool to monitor disaster risk and prepare disaster management plans, and as criteria for allocation of funds, based on levels of risks. (See Infographic)
  • UNDP has established a few noteworthy regional partnerships in addressing the complex challenges of disaster preparedness, conflict prevention and sustainable recovery: with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), by contributing to the Declaration between the UN and ASEAN which calls for improved cooperation in preparedness, response and recovery; with the Regional Integrated Multi Hazard Early Warning System in Asia and Africa (RIMES), through a regional initiative on management of climate variability to advance climate risk management; and with the Intergovernmental Coordination Group for the Indian Ocean Tsunami Warning and Mitigation System (ICG-IOTWS) through development of Indian Ocean-wide tsunami warning system and supporting risk assessment processes in coastal communities.
  • The tsunami warning system for the entire Indian Ocean region, fully functional since 2011, was tested in real life in April 2012 when an 8.7 earthquake struck North Sumatra. The tsunami early warning centers in Indonesia, India and Australia analyzed the seismic data and disseminated tsunami warning bulletins within minutes leading to large-scale evacuations. The response was a major change from 2004 when none of the countries had any mechanisms in place to issue tsunami warnings and over 230,000 lives were lost. UNDP played a crucial role in establishing and strengthening the tsunami warning system by supporting regional and national technical and policy interventions and institutions to coordinate their response to the tsunami threat. An evaluation in 2012 highlighted UNDP’s significant contributions to the current level of preparedness and resilience of Indonesia, Sri Lanka and other Indian Ocean countries against tsunami and coastal hazards. The evaluation recognized UNDP’s critical regional role as a much needed catalyst that should be continued.
  • The N-PEACE (Engage for Peace, Equality, Access, Community and Empowerment) initiative promotes the role of women in building and restoring peace in post-conflict countries. The N-PEACE members from civil society organizations, women’s groups and governments collaborated to address similar challenges in different national contexts and advocate for the implementation of the UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security. Through national advocacy forums, grass-root campaigns, and peer support over 800 network members in Afghanistan, Indonesia, Nepal, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Timor-Leste, N-PEACE helped advance security agenda at the local level and fostered their skills in conflict prevention, dispute resolution, reconstruction and peace building. Over 85,000 people supported two N-Peace social media campaigns in 2011 and 2012 and selected the winners of the Annual N-PEACE Awards.