Good morning everyone.
It is my great pleasure to join you all today.
I would like to thank His Excellency Mr. Arjun Thapa, the Secretary General of SAARC; Her Excellency Alicia Dela Rosa Bala, the Deputy Secretary-General of ASEAN; and Mr. Said Faisal, the Executive Director of the AHA Centre, for hosting this opportunity to exchange views and deepen cooperation on disaster management.
I would also like to thank Mr. Bill Berger and Mr. Michael Ernts, from the USAID Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance and Mr. Kevin Misenheimer from the Forestry Service for being here today and for helping put this program together.
Finally, let me thank the dedicated staff at the AHA Centre and SAARC Disaster Management Centre who work hard every day to make the world a safer place.
As everyone in the room knows, both the ASEAN and SAARC regions get more than their fair share of natural disasters. Because of climate change extreme weather events are becoming more frequent and more severe.
In the past few months alone, typhoons in the Philippines and floods in Malaysia have shown that there is a dire need for regional disaster response organizations like the AHA Centre and the SAARC Disaster Management Centre.
The speed of response when a disaster strikes can mean the difference between life and death and a coordinated international response is essential. The good news is that there is no shortage of goodwill in this area of the world. As we witnessed during the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that devastated the shores of many South Asian and Southeast Asian countries, the 2008 cyclone Nargis, the 2009 cyclone Aila in India and Bangladesh, and the 2013 typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, people, governments, NGOs all want to help.
But we must constantly improve our coordinating mechanisms to ensure that this goodwill can be translated quickly into practical and effective assistance on the ground. Removing barriers so supplies and first responders can flow easily saves lives.
ASEAN has shown great leadership in promoting regional disaster preparedness through the creation of the AHA Centre, the ASEAN Agreement on Disaster Management and Emergency Response, the Emergency Rapid Assessment Teams and other mechanisms.
On behalf of the U.S. government, I would like to congratulate ASEAN on its progress to date, and express our appreciation that the AHA Centre is willing to share lessons learned from its challenges and successes with colleagues from South Asia and the SAARC Disaster Management Centre, and I know they will learn from SAARC’s experience as well.
This U.S.-sponsored expert-level visit from the SAARC Disaster Management Centre only reaffirms our ongoing commitment to develop protocols and policies for regional disaster collaboration that will help reduce the impact of natural disasters and save lives.
The United States takes a whole-of-government approach to cooperation on disaster management.and our cooperation with both ASEAN and SAARC is deep and broad.
In partnership with USAID, the U.S. Pacific Command, and specialized agencies like the U.S. Forest Service, we have had the fortune of a strong collaboration with ASEAN in disaster management for some time.
For example, the U.S. Pacific Command, through its Center for Excellence in Disaster Management and Humanitarian Assistance, carries out two to three capacity-building workshops with the AHA Centre each year. The main focus has been on improving the planning process.
USAID, meanwhile, has invested over $1 million in the installation of a state-of-the art, all-hazard Disaster Monitoring and Response System here at the AHA Centre, which has been in use since early 2013. I had a chance to see it and I understand you will too. It’s impressive.
Further, USAID has provided over $59 million for direct disaster response and humanitarian assistance in ASEAN Member States in the past three years and invested an additional $68 million in disaster risk reduction programs.
I am particularly proud of the assistance the U.S. government was able to provide in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan.
The United States military distributed nearly 2,500 tons of relief supplies, moved 2,000 relief workers and evacuated more than 21,000 people.
The U.S. Department of Defense spent more than31 million dollars on the logistics associated with the response.
The United States will continue our efforts to support both ASEAN and SAARC’s disaster management and response coordination systems.
This collaboration between ASEAN and SAARC truly demonstrates the way ahead for inter-regional collaboration.
President Obama, at the ASEAN-U.S. Summit in Nyapitaw in November outlined the United States’ commitment to the success of organizations like the AHA Centre and the SAARC Disaster Management Centre.
He stated that the United States is, and I quote, “invested in building capacity not just of individual nations but also in between nations so we become stronger, more capable partners of each other.” He went on to say that, “We will be stronger together than when we act individually”.
Let us continue to work together on important efforts such as these.
Thank you and I hope your meetings are successful.
Now that the speeches are done, you can get down to the real work.