Welcome to SEARCA Knowledge Center on Climate Change Adaptation in Agriculture and Natural Resource Management in Southeast Asia (KC3)

ASEAN leaders forge action points for PDDs

Published on 5 November 2014 Southeast Asia

MANILA, Philippines – How should governments and international bodies address the needs of people forced to leave their homes due to disasters? What policies and actions are needed to help the millions of people worldwide experiencing this problem?

An international consultation on this issue ended with Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) leaders emphasizing the need for international and local policies, and joint action to help people displaced by disasters (PDD) in Southeast Asia, one of the regions most vulnerable to disasters.

Led by the Nansen Initiative (NI) from October 15 to 17, the consultation aimed to identify the challenges and opportunities that the region faces in relation to disasters, climate change, and human mobility.

“I was impressed by the fact that we were able to address real issues, with very open and constructive attitudes and lots of very good practical ideas on what should be done to help protect PDDs,” Professor Walter Kaelin, envoy of the NI, said.

Kaelin, along with representatives of United Nations (UN) agencies and other governments outside the ASEAN, led the consultations.

NI is a state-led, bottom-up consultative process intended to build consensus on protecting PDDs. It was launched in 2012 by the governments of Norway and Switzerland.

‘Positive outcome’

ASEAN leaders identified 6 areas where action is needed: (1) disaster risk management and climate change adaptation, (2) planned relocation, (3) internal displacement, (4) cross-border displacement due to disasters, (5) protecting migrants abroad in disaster contexts, and (6) data collection and scientific knowledge.

In terms of disaster risk management and climate change adaptation (CCA), the participants agreed to “develop and institutionalize community-based and traditional disaster risk mapping tools and methodologies to identify populations most exposed to natural hazards,” among others.

“You have to map areas at risk of displacement so you have to know where people would be affected then you can take measures to help them,” Kaelin said.

The establishment and distribution of early warning systems and information to communities is also a priority. This will lead to raising the general awareness on DRR-CCA and enhancing capacity on disaster response among local communities, the participants agreed.

“There’s emphasis that this should be done at the community level. The communities have to be involved with risk activities through consultation, information, and participation,” Kaelin said.

Although planned relocation for their constituents in hazard-prone areas is a concern among governments, the leaders stated that this should be done “only in cases where (climate change adaptation) measures are insufficient to protect (communities).”

Kaelin added: “Relocation is not just about building houses somewhere else. It’s mainly about livelihood. If people lose (or are not given) their livelihood, relocation will not be permanent.”

Internal vs cross-border displacement

ASEAN leaders acknowledged the different measures needed between internal and cross-border displacements.

While internal displacements occur when people leave their homes but remain inside their own countries, cross-border displacements take place when people flee to other countries due to either conflict or disasters in their own homes.

The Philippines, for example, does not face the problem of cross-border displacements since it does not share land borders with its neighbors. When Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) struck parts of the country in November 2013, however, around 4 million Filipinos were internally displaced due to the destruction brought by the super typhoon.

The conclusions stressed the need for clearer policy guidelines to assess the needs of internally-displaced people (IDPs) and the call to “develop, at the national level, clear policy guidelines to protect IDPs" and to adopt national legislation on internal displacement.

Meanwhile, the ASEAN governments expressed an “open” approach to the problem of cross-border displacement with participants “encouraging” the admission, on a temporary basis, of displaced persons in need of assistance, and examining the possibility of developing temporary protection mechanisms at bilateral, sub-regional or regional levels.

This conclusion is timely given the ASEAN integration set for 2015, where mobility and economic activities among Southeast Asian nationals are expected to increase.

Protecting migrants abroad was also a priority.

“Receiving countries when affected by disasters should provide access to emergency assistance for migrants regardless of their status, allow for and facilitate voluntary departure, and ensure safe passage,” the outcome document said.

Kaelin emphasised that this means, “that (migrants) can get assistance and protection from the receiving country, that they are allowed to leave and return without obstacles. But also enable the country of origin to help their people affected by a disaster abroad.”

Refugees or displaced persons?

Kaelin clarified that displaced persons are not the same as refugees, as how media would often describe them.

“Refugees are people who have crossed borders, who are in another country but cannot return back to their country of origin because they would be persecuted there. They would become victims of violence if they went back home,” he said.

Displaced persons are also forced to flee their homes to go to another place within their country or another country either because of violence, armed conflict, or disasters. The main difference, Kaelin said, is that they don’t have any problems with their own government.

The envoy added that cooperation plays a big role in displacements, especially in the context of disasters.

“In typical refugee situations, you cannot cooperate with the country of origin because the country of origin goes against its own citizens. In displacements, the entry point should be cooperation – what can other countries do to help states hit by disasters?”

He also said that displacements in disasters are more manageable than those caused by armed conflicts.

“We might not know when a disaster hits but we can know which areas are at a particular risk. You can plan, try to manage and take measures so that people in the end do not have to flee. But when conflict erupts, you cannot really manage those population movements,” Kaelin added.

Need for legislation

 “That’s the gap. That’s why the Nansen initiative exists because it’s already a reality. We fear and expect harsher impacts of climate change; the number of this category of people will grow. There is a need to find some normative framework for them,” he added. While there are good laws protecting refugees, Kaelin said there are currently no legislation protecting displaced persons in the context of disasters.

The conclusions will be presented and discussed in the 3rd World Conference on Disaster Reduction – where world leaders are expected to draft new DRR policies - in Sendai, Japan in March 2015. The outcome document will also be used for the NI Global Consultation set for Geneva, Switzerland in October of the same year.

Kaelin admitted, however, that it is highly unlikely that there will be a global consensus for PDDs, especially because of the varying situations in different parts of the world. But he said there is still hope.

“Maybe at the regional level, more progress can be made because very often in these situations, people just flee across the border to neighboring countries. Cooperation should be at the core of addressing these situations. There is cooperation in ASEAN,” he added.

The envoy said that although the NI process is very inter-governmental in orientation, they also get the perspective from the people on the ground.

“Ultimately, this is about people, and about protecting and helping them. Before we organize the inter-governmental consultations, we always have the civil society consultations. People can participate and their voices are extremely important,” Kaelin concluded.

Before the NI regional consultations, the 2nd Global Conference on Disaster Response Dialogue (DRD) was also held in Manila from October 13-14. It highlighted the importance of improving trust and cooperation among different international and national bodies for better humanitarian responses to disasters. – Rappler.com

Source: Rappler | 18 October 2014