OUTCOMES OF THE REGIONAL WORKSHOP ON INFORMATION MANAGEMENT AND COORDINATION MECHANISMS OF TSUNAMI EMERGENCY AND REHABILITATION OPERATIONS IN AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES AND FORESTRY
Some say the Indian Ocean tsunami on 26 December 2004 was the most reported and well-funded disaster in history. Hundreds of humanitarian organizations, several thousand military troops from a dozen countries and hundreds of millions of dollars were pledged to aid the stricken countries. Two years on, much of the physical damage has been repaired. Most of the people affected have re-established their livelihoods, some with more success than others it is true. Overall, the physical recovery in most areas has been remarkable. The “emergency response” phase is over and governments are now looking beyond recovery and rehabilitation to long-term development.
As the visible scars of the tsunami disaster heal and fade, one of the major challenges for governments is to apply the lessons learned from this disaster to national development plans, including disaster planning. The costs related to natural disasters are now 15 times higher than they were in the 1950s. According to the IMF, material losses caused by natural disasters in the 1990s amounted to US$652 billion. The number of disasters has also grown from fewer than 100 in 1975 to more than 400 in 2005. Approximately 2.6 billion people were affected by natural disasters over the past ten years, compared to 1.6 billion in the previous decade.
A growing number of people are beginning to realize that a portion of these costs can be traced back to ineffective information management and coordination mechanisms. For example, in the aftermath of the tsunami, local people and local NGOs came to each others’ assistance first. Even with the benefit of local knowledge they discovered that their baseline data was incomplete. Government information, in most cases, was considered outdated or irrelevant to their needs. In too many instances, government agencies and aid organizations were basing their relief efforts on “informed” or “best” guesses.
The tsunami has highlighted the central role of information and coordination in effective response, recovery and rehabilitation. The many general and specific obstacles to information gathering are now well documented. It remains to be seen if these lessons can be taken to heart. We cannot know when the next disaster will strike or its magnitude. We can be almost sure there will be more disasters. The only rational response is to have our information management and coordination mechanisms in place before the next disaster.
These proceedings document the discussions of some of the central actors in the emergency response, recovery and rehabilitation efforts in Indonesia, Maldives, Sri Lanka and Thailand. Present at the forum were senior representatives from the key government agencies responsible for coordination and delivery of aid, senior project managers from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, and representatives from a number of involved international and regional organizations.
The presentations and discussions focused on three main areas:
A great deal of information was shared and exchanged during these proceedings and this is recorded in the various presentations and papers. What matters most, however, are the conclusions that emerge from such discussions and the action that follows from those conclusions. At the end of this workshop, the key messages from the participants can be summarized as follows:
Emergency response, rehabilitation and recovery are distinct phases but they are linked. Aspects of rehabilitation and recovery need to be addressed in the emergency response phase. Recovery includes issues that extend far beyond the disaster zone, i.e. national development planning, poverty alleviation and governance.
The tsunami highlighted, once again, the importance of effective links between central government agencies, local NGOs and communities. “Participation” and “participatory approaches” are critical elements of an effective response.
The state of readiness before a disaster strikes includes the available information, the state of information management systems, and the capacities of people involved to use those systems. The state of readiness of both people and systems is a significant determining factor in how quickly and effectively government, non-government and external agencies can respond.
The value and importance of information, information management and coordination mechanisms are still not adequately appreciated. The consequence is that too few resources are allocated too late in the process. The tsunami disaster raised awareness somewhat, but those in the field must continue to lobby hard for funding and other forms of support and continuously remind government ministries of the importance of information management.
Finally, a better and more secure future for the people and communities affected by the tsunami now depends on well-coordinated, integrated and participatory planning efforts at national, provincial and local levels.
Assistant Director-General and
Regional Representative for Asia and the Pacific