Disasters are often ‘shared events’, crossing national boundaries and affecting whole regions. A Caribbean hurricane may go on to hit Central America; where major rivers cross national boundaries, such as those entering Bangladesh or Mozambique, floods that begin in one country can spread to others; volcanic ash can be blown across a whole continent, affecting agriculture and aviation. Countries in the same region tend to face similar hazard threats and often have similar institutional and social structures.
This creates a strong incentive for national governments to collaborate, especially in sharing forecasting and warning data. Systems for sharing scientific information between countries – particularly hydro-meteorological data for early warning – are well established and can be very effective. More wide-reaching regional agreements include the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) Agreement on Disaster Management and Emergency Response (AADMER), signed by ASEAN foreign ministers in 2005, which is a legally binding agreement for member states to promote regional cooperation in DRR and disaster preparedness and step up joint emergency responses to disasters in the region. After Cyclone Nargis in 2008, ASEAN played a vital role in brokering collaboration between the government of Myanmar and the international aid community.+L. Mercado Carreon, ‘Working with ASEAN on Disaster Risk Reduction and Disaster Management’, Humanitarian Exchange, no. 50, 2011, http://www.odihpn.org/humanitarian-exchange-magazine/issue-50; http://www.aadmerpartnership.org.
Collaboration on DRR between national governments is less common. Disasters may raise tensions between states. The sudden release of a build-up of floodwater from dams in one country can cause severe flooding in a neighbouring state downstream. In South Asia, where large river systems cross national borders, disputes over water use have hindered the establishment of regional flood forecasting and warning systems.+Navin Singh Khadka, ‘South Asia Disunity “Hampers Flood Warnings”’, BBC, 19 July 2013, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-23358255. Concern is growing about the possibility of ‘water wars’ between states as environmental destruction, population growth and climate change combine to make water scarce in already dry regions.
Disasters can also stimulate improvements in political relations. For example, it is generally agreed that the disaster in Aceh, Indonesia, caused by the December 2004 tsunami was a contributory factor towards the successful conclusion of peace negotiations between the Indonesian government and the Free Aceh Movement to resolve a long-running conflict. Both sides were involved in disaster response and peace was essential for relief distribution and rehabilitation.+J.-C. Gaillard, E. Clavé and I. Kelman, ‘Wave of Peace? Tsunami Disaster Diplomacy in Aceh, Indonesa’, Geoforum, 39(1), 2008.
A lack of trust between national governments and international aid agencies can hinder collaborative preparedness efforts: this has often been a problem in responding to famine early warnings in the Sahel, for instance. However, there is an important role for regional and international organisations in coordination, information sharing and resourcing (see Case Study 4.12: Regional cooperation in flood management). For example, the Applied Geoscience and Technical Division (SOPAC) of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community has been providing scientific information and technical assistance for over 40 years to Pacific island countries and territories, helping them to manage natural resources more effectively, adapt to environmental change and strengthen risk management practices. Similarly, the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) supports island states in the Caribbean to build disaster management capacities, improve knowledge management, mainstream DRR into other sectors and strengthen community resilience, in addition to coordinating response efforts and promoting policy change. The World Health Organisation (WHO)’s Healthy Cities project is a global initiative to engage local governments in health development through greater political commitment, building institutional capacities, collaborative planning and innovative projects. It has a particularly extensive programme in Europe, where more than 1,400 cities and towns are involved in national and regional healthy cities networks.+See http://www.sopac.org; http://www.cdema.org; http://www.euro.who.int/en/health-topics/environment-and-health/urban-health/activities/healthy-cities.
The Mekong River Commission (MRC), set up in 1995, is an inter-governmental agency working directly with the governments of Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam on the joint management of shared water resources and sustainable development of the Mekong River. It plays a key role in regional decision-making and the development of common rules and procedures; it is also a knowledge hub on fisheries, navigation, flood and drought management, environmental monitoring and hydropower development.
Annual floods play a vital role in agriculture and freshwater fisheries, and provide water that can be stored for irrigation in the dry season; but they can also result in loss of life, damage to agriculture, property and infrastructure, and disruption of social and economic activities. The average annual cost of floods in the Lower Mekong Basin is $60–70m, with most of the damage in Cambodia and Vietnam.
Drawing on data from 138 hydro-meteorological stations, the MRC’s Flood Management and Mitigation Centre, based in Phnom Penh, issues daily flood forecasts and warnings to governments, NGOs, the media and the public during the flood season. A regional Flood Forum coordinates flood-management activities with planners, scientists, international organisations and civil society organisations. It is also a platform for sharing experiences, information and lessons learned through training workshops and exchange visits.
Mekong River Commission website: http://www.mrcmekong.org.