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Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response
ASEAN and the European Union – new strategies and cooperation in disaster management
Public speech during visit in Indonesia
Jakarta / Indonesia, 12 September 2011
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am honoured to speak to this distinguished audience on the topic of EU and ASEAN cooperation. As someone who has worked in this region at a very different time, during the 1997-98 crisis, I am very excited to come back and witness the tremendous transformation that has taken place over the last decade.
Since the 1997 financial crisis, ASEAN is achieving impressive growth – a 7.5% growth rate – a result we, in Europe, can only dream of. This demonstrates the resilience of the ASEAN economies, and brings the promise of a better future to millions of people.
I am particularly honoured to talk about this here, in Indonesia. Indonesia's economic advancements over the last 13 years have been driven by – and have been driving - a democratic transformation that is truly outstanding. Thanks to this transformation, today Indonesia is the world's third-largest democracy, a member of the G20 and a natural leader in the region. It is the biggest member of the ASEAN and engine for its development. With three successful parliamentary elections and two direct Presidential elections under its belt, Indonesia is a beacon of democratic values and stability in this highly dynamic region. In this regard, Indonesia can serve as an example for others, far away – like Egypt and close to home - like Myanmar.
When talking about Asia, usually the focus is on the rise of China and India and their role as purveyors of the new global balance of power. ASEAN's economic performance certainly sets it on an equal footing in the global equation. This offers new opportunities for cooperation between ASEAN and the European Union on issues of vital importance to our citizens.
Of the issues that will decide the future of ASEAN, three are particularly relevant, not only because they relate to major challenges, but also because they are inter-connected and therefore reinforce each other. The first one is how to manage the growing inequality that is a by-product of rapid growth; second, how to grow without environmental degradation; and, third, the issue I am most worried about in the context of my responsibilities as commissioner for humanitarian aid and crisis response, how to cope with increased frequency and intensity of disasters, especially in very densely populated urban centres. In these three areas Europe has acquired, sometimes painfully, valuable experience, which we are keen to share. We are also keen to learn from Asia's own record in tackling these challenges.
Let me start with social inequality. In our own development, we Europeans have learned how important it is to share the benefits of growth: when economic resources are shared, the society is far more resilient. This is why in this time of more disasters and rapid economic changes, we need to be particularly vigilant to tackle inequalities, as the poorest are also the most vulnerable. This is an important lesson for Europe's unity and future, and a lesson that will matter for the future of ASEAN as well.
The same applies to dealing with environmental degradation. It is an increasingly important risk to sustaining growth, especially in high population density, ecologically sensitive regions. The UN forecasts that the Earth’s population will surge by 40%- up to 9.3 billion people by 2050, and over 70% of them will live in cities. You can imagine the environmental risk of a rush to the cities estimated at nearly 140,000 people a day in Asia. The ASEAN countries, already densely populated, are among those facing a major challenge.
There, too, we can recall our own difficult experience: Europe faced rapid urbanisation in parallel with industrialisation. Our cities have sometimes been choked for decades, and our kids were sick because of environmental degradation. What we have learned is that bad environmental situations can be improved and that the process is reversible if one has the courage to explain the issues clearly and to take the appropriate policies.
A first step to realise how fast environmental degradation is taking place is to include the negative environmental effects of economic growth in cost-benefit calculations. Deforested areas are at the origin of many disasters, in particular flooding and landslides. Deforestation affects a range of ecosystem services including biodiversity, but it also reduces potential for ecotourism. Deforestation in upstream areas may cause disasters possibly thousands of kilometres downstream. Thai Prime Minister Yngluck Shinawatra is in Jakarta today: last Friday, she made it clear that deforestation was the main factor in the tragedy that took place in Nam Phai, where mountain run-off and mudslides killed three people with six still missing, not counting the four roads, the school and six-bridges washed out by this catastrophe.
As we see, deforestation is one of multipliers of disasters, which is what I deal with in my portfolio on international cooperation, humanitarian aid and crisis response. In the past 30 years, the number of recorded disasters has risen five times and their cost has soared even higher. In the same period, the Asia Pacific region suffered 91% of the world’s fatalities and 49% of the world’s damage due to natural disasters. Southeast Asia alone accounts for some 60% of these disasters worldwide.
Indonesia is certainly no stranger to natural disasters. You suffered the terrible destruction and loss of life caused by the earthquake and tsunami in Aceh in 2004 or more recently the tsunami that ravaged the Mentawai Islands or the eruption of Mount Merapi. Faced with the constant threat of disasters, Indonesia has worked hard on disaster response and risk reduction, enacting new laws, establishing new institutions and initiating the creation of a regional framework for emergency response. Not surprisingly, President Yudhoyono received the award as "Global Champion for Disaster Risk Reduction" from UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in May this year.
This is a challenge for countries rich and poor. Look at the beginning of 2011 – the rich countries in Asia-Pacific were badly hit by disasters. Australia with the floods, New Zealand with repetitive earthquakes, and, the worst of all, Japan with a triple disaster. And in Europe we have our troubles as well: it is not a well known fact that over the last 10 years we lost 100,000 people and over 150 billion Euros to natural disasters – floods, which causes the most damage, summer heat and winter storms, which causes the most deaths, earthquakes, and forest fires to name but a few.
In the face of such challenges which can put on its knees even the most prepared country, cooperation is paramount. What does it mean for relations between the EU and ASEAN?
First, we must be aware of the risks that threaten us and prepare for them. We have to be ready, but recent disasters show that they can exceed even our worst expectations; this means that we must do more in particular on mapping, assessing, and analysing the risks. Let me give you one example – in March I was supposed to take part in a disaster relief exercise here, in Indonesia, which simulated a 7.5 earthquake followed by tsunami. I did come to Asia, but it wasn’t Indonesia, it was Japan, and the reality was far worse than the simulation we had planned – a 9.0 earthquake, followed by tsunami and a nuclear incident! So we need to prepare even for troubles that exceed our imagination.
Awareness means preparedness, and I believe there is ample room for the EU and ASEAN learning together how to place disaster preparedness and prevention at the heart of future development across all sectors of our economies. Serious studies such as the one by the World Bank clearly show: for every Euro, rupiah or dollar invested in disaster risk reduction there is a return of four to seven times in avoided damages. Even with great growth rates, a return of 400 to 700% can hardly be ignored.
So we need to build a culture of better understanding, cooperate on information sharing and joint exercises. Exercise is a particularly good way to get prepared. And this is why I am in Indonesia today, to agree on participation in joint exercises, which can clearly reinforce our capacity to react quickly and efficiently.
I am convinced that moving away from a purely bilateral setting of supporting each other in the face of disasters can make a huge positive difference. When a country is overwhelmed by a disaster, it needs not simply a multitude of helping hands, but it needs the world to come together, respond and rebuild. So we must learn how to work better together, but we must also learn how to receive help. In this regard, let me tell you of my recent meeting with the Administrator of FEMA, Craig Fugate. Talking about disaster aftermath, he said that even the wealthiest countries also need to learn how to receive international assistance from their partners. At the end of the day, we must create a management risk mindset among all actors.
My second point is on response - when a disaster hits, we must be able to deploy our assistance swiftly, and learn how to use assistance from abroad effectively. I
To be better at participating in faster and smooth international disaster response, the European Union is currently rethinking its own policy framework in this area. The goal is to map our collective assets and ensure that they fit together, to coordinate effectively, to deploy our capacities and ultimately – to help saving lives and limiting destruction. To this end, we plan to analyse the disaster risks we face, to map what assets our member states can make available in a joint European response to a disaster, draft scenarios and ensure that these assets can, together, actually deliver assistance.
Such complex coordination of course requires a single operational hub – this is why we are currently building a genuine European emergency response centre, whose coordinating experience could be shared with the ASEAN. It will operate 24/7, monitoring risks and alerting the national authorities of potential needs for assistance.
My third point is about the long-term after a disaster has overwhelmed a country. There, we must work on two tracks – deliver well coordinated life-saving assistance and move forward the recovery and reconstruction phase. Today these two tracks are often disconnected. This was so lucidly identified some years ago by a true
Asian leader in humanitarian aid, Ms. Sadako Ogata. When she served as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees from 1991 through 2000, Ms Ogata clearly identified the “gap between humanitarian and development communities”, in particular at a presentation at Brookings with James Wolfensohn, then President of the World Bank, my former employer. Already then, she questioned how to address transition issues – in her address it was from torn societies into a much more sustainable development phase, but it holds true for big transitions. More than ten years later, we are still trying to fulfil her vision about scaling up our respective means in making them more effective as newly combined assets.
So we need to establish a continuum between bringing relief to the people affected by disasters, helping them rebuild their lives, and boosting their resilience for future disasters. There is a lot we can learn from the ASEAN on this topic, in particular in the light of the Aceh experience.
So, to sum up my vision – the challenge is impossible to address for each nation on its own. We need to work together to prepare for the worst, we need to cooperate in responding to disasters when thy strike, and we need to come together as one to help the victims rebuild their lives.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Our world is changing before our very eyes, becoming more fragile and testing our ability to bring the opportunity of development to more of our planet's 7 billion citizens. On my 18 months as Commissioner, I have seen all sorts of disasters, and it has been an eye-opener about how we can react.
We have to choose between the realistic and the fantastic way to face increased disasters. The realistic way would be for extra-terrestrials to come to earth and take charge of disaster management. The fantastical one would simply be to do it ourselves! On a more serious note, I do not believe in extra-terrestrials but I believe that our human solidarity is the best way to improve the lives of our people.