Publications

Integrating A Disaster Response Architecture In Timor-Leste: Opportunities And Challenges

Organisation: NTS, RSIS

Authors: Vishalini Suresh, Alistair D. B. Cook, Tamara Nair, Foo Yen Ne
Research Themes:
Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief
Type: Policy Reports
22 March 2018

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Abstract

Over the past fifteen years, Timor Leste has made noteworthy gains in national development in general but continues to experience significant exposure during natural disasters like prolonged droughts and flooding in particular. Yet there is little documented evidence of these disasters and their impact on human security in Timor Leste. The challenges facing the country are considerable, and low institutional capacity makes it difficult for the government to increase resilience to slow onset disasters. This report explores how current structures, mechanisms and institutions in the country have been organised for emergencies and how disaster response operations have been conducted thus far. Data was collected by conducting in-depth interviews with relevant personnel from government agencies, international aid agencies and local non-state actors. This was supplemented by document analyses of major reports and literature surrounding disaster preparedness in the country.  The findings reveal that there are three key strategies that need further development: enhancing institutional capacity, strengthening coordination mechanisms and evaluating current emergency response plans. Further research should include conducting a comprehensive needs assessment, mapping the localised response structures, and the contextualising of human insecurities in the country.

Examining Cooperation for Climate Change Adaptation in Southeast Asia: The Case of Lower Mekong River Basin

Organisation: NTS, RSIS

Authors: Margareth Sembiring
Research Themes:
Environmental security and climate change
Type: Policy Briefs
23 April 2018

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Abstract

A number of international initiatives on climate change identify cooperation as one of the means to addressing the changing climate. Cooperation also applies in the context of climate change adaptation. As one of the global hotspots for disaster risk, it is imperative for Southeast Asia to build its climate resilience through climate change adaptation. While there are a wide range of interventions that can contribute to climate change adaptation efforts, technology plays a particularly important role across different sectors. This paper is the first part of a series of work that examine the different mechanisms of cooperation for climate change adaptation in Southeast Asia. It takes Lower Mekong River Basin cooperation as a case study and it aims to assess the extent to which regional cooperation helps member countries to implement and expand technological solutions in climate change adaptation.

Migration, Jobs and Wages: Reassessing Benefits and Challenges of Labour Migration

Organisation: NTS, RSIS

Authors: Jose Ma. Luis P. Montesclaros, Mely Caballero-Anthony
Research Themes:
Irregular migration and the movements of people
Type: Policy Reports
25 April 2018

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Abstract

As Southeast Asian economies become deeply integrated, there are concerns as to whether movement of people through labour migration should be part of this integration. While labour migration offers benefits especially in addressing labour shortage in countries with shrinking working age population, for countries at different levels of economic development, opening up the labour markets presents disadvantages to locals facing more job competition and falling wages.  This paper re-examines this debate by analysing a number of factors that have allowed states to maintain their competitiveness and improve wages.  By comparing the experiences of a number of countries that have seen rising wages with those countries that saw falling wages with labour migration, and using a statistical (two-sample difference of means) test, this preliminary study shows that labour migration by itself is neither boon nor bane. A more nuanced view is needed, as labour migration’s impacts on wages hinge on the nature of institutional support provided by governments in helping firms to be internationally competitive.

Resilience in the Face of Disruptions

Organisation: NTS, RSIS

Research Themes:
Other NTS Issues
Type: Policy Reports
10 May 2018

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Abstract

Human activities, technology and climate change drive changes to our environmental landscape and societal order. Marine microplastics arising from woeful human use of plastics threaten marine ecology. Excessive consumption of fossil fuels disrupts weather systems and consequently undermines food security. Unequal access between the “haves and have nots” aggravates food insecurity. Without meaningful intervention, annual deaths from food-borne diseases (FBDs) caused by anti-microbial resistant (AMR) bacteria will reach 10 million in 2050. Human displacement continues unabated across state lines as humanitarian crises require fresh responses. Ubiquitous use of information and communications technologies (ICTs) has created a new landscape where cyber-threats target both hardware and software and where truth has become its latest victim. Moreover, social media has been weaponized to breed intolerance.

The Annual Conference of the Consortium of Non-Traditional Security (NTS) in Asia held in Singapore recently examined responses to these uncertainties, if not threats to humanity, arising from key disruptions. This report captures the responses and hopes touted by experts at the Conference with the view of providing policy makers and invested scholars interested in such developments with some recommendations towards building resilience within and across states.

Is Use of Cyber-Based Technology in Humanitarian Operations Leading to the Reduction of Humanitarian Independence?

Organisation: NTS, RSIS

Authors: MARTIN STANLEY SEARLE
Research Themes:
Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief
Type: Working Papers
11 June 2018

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Abstract

Technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) are being tested and adopted at a significant rate in humanitarian emergency response. However, the crossing of physical, biological, and cyber domains that characterises these technologies threatens the independence of humanitarian organisations. This is occurring in an environment in which the value and purpose of independence is already seriously questioned, both in practice, and in principle. This paper argues that the loss of independence stems from two related trends. First, several 4IR technologies are improving the capacity of humanitarian organisations to gather, synthesise, and analyse data, resulting in the production of information of increasingly strategic, political or military value. Second, the cyber component of these technologies simultaneously renders that information more vulnerable to unauthorised access by third parties with relevant political, military or economic agendas. This parallels the “capability/ vulnerability paradox” identified in literature discussing cybersecurity in relation to the military or so-called “smart cities”. In conflict and disaster settings, this paradox increases the likelihood of humanitarian actors functioning as appendages of other organisations. This loss of independence potentially has operational implications relating to access, and material impact on the ongoing debate around the importance of independence in humanitarian work.

Complex Humanitarian Emergencies and Disaster Management in Bangladesh: the 2017 Rohingya Exodus

Organisation: NTS, RSIS

Authors: Alistair D. B. Cook, Foo Yen Ne
Research Themes:
Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief
Type: Policy Reports
2 July 2018

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Abstract

The exposure to natural hazards has prompted Bangladesh to institutionalize disaster management and coordination. This report examines Bangladesh’s established disaster management structures and the role of key actors through reviewing existing literature from international organisations, academia, and think tanks, followed by interviews with key disaster management stakeholders in Bangladesh from the end of February to the beginning of March 2018. In analysing the response to the 2017 Rohingya Exodus, this report aims to identify lessons learnt and factors which may impede effective disaster management and coordination between different actors with some operating outside their traditional mandated area of natural hazards to govern a complex humanitarian emergency.

Roundtable on Humanitarian Technology and Innovation: Critical Questions and Implications for Southeast Asia

Organisation: NTS, RSIS

Authors: Foo Yen Ne, Martin Searle
Research Themes:
Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief
Type: Event Reports
12 July 2018

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The Case for a Dedicated Regional Mechanism for Climate Change:A Comparative Assessment

Organisation: NTS, RSIS

Authors: Margareth Sembiring
Research Themes:
Environmental security and climate change
Type: Policy Briefs
17 July 2019

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Abstract

Climate change is a common concern that requires collective efforts to address. Regional cooperation on climate change can take place either within a dedicated mechanism or as a part of a larger environmental agenda. Building on an earlier study that examines climate change cooperation at the Lower Mekong River Basin, this Insight looks into regional mechanisms for climate change across different regions. An assessment of regional cooperation efforts in Europe, North America, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia and South America affirms the earlier observation made on the Lower Mekong River Basin cooperation that shows the need for a specialised regional arrangement for more effective climate actions.

Combatting Human Trafficking in East Asia: Mind the Gaps

Organisation: NTS, RSIS

Authors: Julius Cesar Trajano
Research Themes:
Irregular migration and the movements of people
Type: Policy Briefs
20 July 2018

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Abstract

Despite the ratification of global and regional anti-trafficking frameworks and enactment of relevant national laws, human trafficking remains an endemic security problem in East Asia, threatening states and societies. Two-thirds or 25 million of global trafficking victims were identified to be in the region. This NTS Insight briefly reviews the current regional trends and patterns of human trafficking in East Asia. It demonstrates that robust legal frameworks, while absolutely important, are not sufficient to eradicate and prevent human trafficking.  It primarily analyses three fundamental issues that impede effective law enforcement and the eradication of human trafficking in East Asia: (1) weak law enforcement capacity of states; (2) the persistent corruption-trafficking nexus; and (3) limited support services and protection assistance for victims. It highlights the importance of developing and adopting a victim-centered approach in order to make anti-trafficking efforts more holistic and effective.

Laos Dam Collapse: The Regional Response

Organisation: NTS, RSIS

Authors: Lina Gong
Research Themes:
Type: Commentaries
21 August 2018

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Synopsis

The dam collapse and floods in southern Laos in late July shows that disaster response in Southeast Asia comprises different types of cooperation. Given the increasing complexity of disasters, a cooperative mode that involves coordination among multiple actors is essential.

Commentary

DEVASTATING FLOODS hit the Province of Attapeu in Southern Laos on 23 July 2018. According to the ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance (AHA Centre), nine people were killed, 111 missing and 16,000 directly affected as of 25 July. While the area had continuous heavy monsoon rains before the tragedy happened, the disaster was caused not by natural events but the collapse of a saddle dam of the Xe-Pian Xe-Namnoy hydroelectric power project in Attapeu.

In response to the flood, multiple actors in the region have provided emergency aid and assistance, supplementing the government-led efforts. As the emergency response has been hampered by factors like remote location of the affected areas and limited capacity of local authorities, a multi-actor approach was needed which pooled together resources and capabilities from across the region with the consent of the Laotian government.

Coordinated Response in ASEAN

The “ASEAN Declaration on One ASEAN One Response” that was adopted in September 2016 in Vientiane shows that ASEAN member states are committed to collective disaster response. AHA Centre was established in 2011 to facilitate member states to achieve this goal.

In the wake of the dam collapse, AHA Centre has released regular situation updates, provided relief items and dispatched personnel to facilitate coordination between the Laotian government and external actors. By mapping out the needs on the ground and managing the incoming relief items, AHA Centre has offered strong support for the national government in dealing with international assistance.

While AHA Centre has achieved progress in becoming a key regional actor in disaster response, many aspects of its operation still rely on the contribution and cooperation of individual member states. AHA Centre’s relief items were transported from its warehouse in Malaysia to Vientiane by the Royal Malaysian Air Forces.

Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam, among others, deployed specialists to assist search and rescue, in addition to their aid donation. Bilateral assistance thus constitutes a critical component of regional disaster response as member states complement each other in expertise and resources.

Prompt Response from Northern Neighbours

Northeast Asian countries, namely China, South Korea and Japan, have been generous in offering assistance through various channels. China was among the first to respond to the collapse. As the two countries happened to be holding joint medical rescue exercise in Vientiane when the dam collapsed, the fully-equipped Chinese rescue and medical teams arrived in the affected area two days after the disaster.

The South Korean government provided relief items and cash and dispatched teams of rescuers and medical staff. Japanese relief goods that were transported from the warehouse of Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) in Singapore arrived on 27 July.

The respective response of the three Northeast Asian countries has been driven by different factors. The early and swift deployment of Chinese assistance has been built on strong bilateral relationship and mutual trust particularly when the military dimension has been involved.

South Korea has paid special attention to the flood as two South Korean companies are implicated in the project. Japan as a traditional donor to Southeast Asia has developed strength in responding to emergencies. The extensive presence of Japan’s international aid system in the region has enabled its prompt response.

Active Role of Private Sector

The role of corporate actors was particularly noticeable as the deluge was caused by man-made factors. The South Korean firms, namely SK Engineering and Construction and Korea Western Power, have been at the focus of international attention as the stakeholders of the hydropower project. SK Engineering and Construction as the main contractor donated US$10 million, brought in helicopters to assist rescue, and pledged to work with local authorities in building temporary shelters for the affected communities.

Chinese enterprises that operate in Laos like China Power and China Railway No.2 Group responded quickly with relief items as well as necessary equipment like electricity generator and excavator. They also helped repair roads and bridges to reopen access for rescue and relief efforts to the cut-off areas.

Singapore’s business community has also been mobilised to donate water, food and clothes to the survivors. As many of these foreign companies operate in the affected areas or nearby, they were well-positioned to provide initial assistance to the affected population.

Way Forward

The emergency response to the dam collapse in Laos reflects the trend in addressing non-traditional security (NTS) challenges like disasters induced by a mix of human and natural causes, which involves not only the national government concerned but also regional bodies, foreign governments and militaries, as well as private actors.

The multiplicity of actors diversifies sources of capacity, but coordination is essential for optimal use of expertise and resources. Within Southeast Asia, the AHA Centre has become the primary platform for coordination among ASEAN member states. As AHA Centre develops further, it is worth assessing whether there is need for the organisation to build expertise and capacity beyond coordinating, given that the region is likely to face threats from different types of disasters.

The three Northeast Asian countries have strong capacity in disaster response, which can be complementary with ASEAN member states. It is important for these countries to strengthen collaboration with the AHA Centre, given the growing role of the regional organisation in disaster management.

Despite the presence of the ASEAN+3 framework, cooperation remains primarily on a bilateral basis, as in this case. As the involvement of foreign actors, particularly militaries, in the affairs of a sovereign state is sensitive, deepening mutual trust is critical for enhancing cooperation between ASEAN member states and their northern neighbours.

The dam collapse highlights the need to build the capacity of the private sector in disaster preparedness and response, so as to strengthen the state response. As Southeast Asian countries aim to enhance connectivity, more infrastructure projects are expected. While high safety and quality standards reduce the likelihood of man-made disasters, it is still necessary for companies to be prepared for those induced by natural causes, like making emergency response plans and coordinating with local authorities.

Disaster response in this region comprises multilateral, bilateral and cross-level cooperation. To maximise the benefits of cooperation, coordination between states, regional organisations and private actors can and should be strengthened further.

About the Author

Lina Gong is a Research Fellow with the Centre for Non-Traditional Security Studies (NTS), S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University, (NTU), Singapore.