Understanding APEC and disaster preparedness

Ted Aldwin Ong
Do you know how APEC helps the Asia-Pacific community respond to natural and man-made disasters?

On September 22-23, 2015, Senior Disaster Management officials of member economies to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) will meet in Iloilo City in order to discuss disaster concerns and issues on disaster management to explore ways for cooperation.  

The project “Scaling Up Resilience in Governance” (SURGE) offers this helpful background on the role of APEC on disaster preparedness in the Asia Pacific Region.

The Origin of APEC

The formation of APEC as an economic body in the Asia Pacific Region was an idea developed by then Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke in 1989. There were 12 economies that participated in a meeting held in Canberra, Australia, which was intended to create the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation or known today as APEC.

The meeting was attended by ministers from the 12 nations and discussions were led by Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Gareth Evans.

The APEC is primarily an economic cooperation cluster. Hence, members to APEC are referred to as ‘economies’ instead of states, because APEC, is above all, a cooperation platform with a predominant focus on trade and economic issues. Members engage with one another as economic not as political entities. This is in contrast to many regional or geographic trade and economic blocs in the world today. 

There were some nations that expressed opposition to the formation of APEC yet the formation materialized and continues to operate 26 years after it was established.

APEC Members

From the twelve 12 members that originally composed APEC, its membership expanded to 21 economies.

The first 12 nations that composed APEC were Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Philippines, Singapore, Republic of Korea, Thailand and the United States.

In the span of nine years, the APEC broadened membership to include Chile, People’s Republic of China, Hong Kong, Mexico, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Russia, Chinese Taipei, and Viet Nam bringing its membership to 21 nations today.

There were dozen more nations who had submitted their intention to become a member of APEC. The APEC, however, issued a moratorium on membership expansion citing various reasons geographical consideration up to economic factors that affected members of the bloc following the Asian Financial Crisis in 1997.

APEC and disaster management

Given the geographical location and the presence of all the known hazards in the world, emergency preparedness has become one of the key elements of APEC’s human security agenda, along with countering terrorism and pandemics. The agenda is also a recognition of the potential impacts that disasters can bring from one member to the other and which can deliver significant spillover effects in other economies.

Among the major catastrophes that hit the region in recent years were the following:

  • The Indian Ocean Tsunami in 2004
  • The earthquake in China’s Sichuan province in 2008
  • The earthquake in Chile in 2010
  • The earthquakes in New Zealand and Japan in 2011
  • Typhoon Haiyan in Micronesia and the Philippines (2013).

These disaster events served as a critical reminder of the importance of APEC’s emergency preparedness work.

In 2005, APEC Senior Officials established the Emergency Preparedness Working Group (EPWG) as APEC’s Task Force for Emergency Preparedness (TFEP). Originally called the Virtual Task Force for Emergency Preparedness, the TFEP carried out much of its work via electronic communications. Pursuant to its terms of reference, the Task Force was mandated to coordinate and facilitate emergency and disaster preparedness within APEC.

In 2009, APEC Leaders reaffirmed the importance of enhancing human security and reducing the threat of disruptions to business and trade in the Asia-Pacific region. Recognizing the importance of its work, in 2010, the TFEP was upgraded into a working group status.

Now, the EPWG continues to play its constructive role in enabling the region to improve preparedness and response to emergencies and disasters by helping reduce the risk of disasters and by building resilient businesses and communities. By sharing expertise and collaborating on emergency preparedness issues, APEC members showed commitment to strengthen their capacities to mitigate emergencies and step up disasters preparedness program.

As a member economy to the APEC, the Philippines contributes to the attainment of its general aspiration by working closely with member economies to help facilitate trade and plan for emergency preparedness. 

This year, the Philippines serves as host to member economies for a senior disaster officials Meeting with the theme: “Building Inclusive Economies, Building a Better World.” The upcoming meeting in Iloilo City will provide primary focus on inclusive growth and in building sustainable and resilient communities.

The APEC meeting signals a new phase for commitment to inclusive development. The plans and programs that will be decided by senior disaster officials have to contend with the growing challenges of natural and human-induced hazards that affect its asset base and the population – that currently contribute to or have the potential to contribute to the development of the region.

The Iloilo City gathering of senior disaster officials from APEC member economies is crucial for its peoples because the policies and programs that will be derived from the meeting are expected to focus on building resilient communities that can adapt to the demands of the changing climate especially to archipelagic nations like the Philippines.

It is the first time for Iloilo City to host numerous cluster meetings on the road to the APEC Ministerial Meeting in November. This is the second time that the Philippine government will serve as host of an APEC meeting. – Rappler.com

Ted Aldwin Ong is a Rappler mover and Project Agos partner in Iloilo.

The SURGE Project aims to increase resilience of high risk communities in the Philippines. It is implemented by a consortium composed of Christian Aid, Handicap International, Oxfam and Plan International and with a funding support by the European Union Humanitarian Aid.


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