Staff Writer l Palladium - Mar 14 2022
Localisation and Resilience: How Lessons from COVID-19 are Informing Disaster Management in the Pacific

Source: The Inertia

Home to some of the world’s most rapidly growing economies, the Indo Pacific region also experiences more disasters than anywhere else. From the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, and Typhoon Haiyan in 2013 in the Philippines, to the multiple disasters that beset Indonesia in 2018 and, most recently, Typhoon Rai/Odette, which struck the Philippines in December 2021, the region is no stranger to natural disasters and the recovery work that’s needed in their wake.

Launched in 2019, SIAP SIAGA, a five-year partnership between Australia and Indonesia on disaster risk management, recently convened a series of knowledge exchange events to capture key lessons on how COVID-19 has affected disaster management and resilience in the region.

SIAP SIAGA’s goals are to strengthen disaster management in Indonesia and cooperation between the two countries to support the improvement of disaster management and humanitarian action in the Indo-Pacific region.

When COVID-19 hit during the program’s first year, SIAP SIAGA responded quickly, providing advice to the Indonesian government’s coordinating authority on COVID-19 management and mobilising support for community-based risk reduction efforts.

The partnership is also charged with building an evidence base to demonstrate how knowledge management and learning can be institutionalised to promote innovation in disaster management. The onset of COVID-19 and resulting events across the region proved to be the perfect testing grounds for this type of work.

But how could SIAP SIAGA bring together those in the sector to discuss lessons learned in the midst of the pandemic? “We obviously couldn’t put people in a room,” says Oliver Lacey-Hall, SIAP SIAGA Lead Advisor. “We had to figure out how to do it differently and do it well, and we landed on webinars.”

Learning from One Disaster to Prepare for the Next

To capture how COVID-19 has affected disaster management and resilience in the region, SIAP SIAGA hosted a series of webinars with participants and subject-matter experts from governments of Indo-Pacific countries, non-governmental organisations, international and regional organisations, the private sector, and the technology sector among others to discuss issues at the intersection of COVID-19 and the collective ability to manage disasters.

“We consulted with our team and partners to come up with the topics for the webinars, ranging from the overall impact of COVID-19 on disaster management, to localisation and how local communities stepped up to respond, and technology and communications’ role throughout,” Program Adviser, Kanjeng Pangeran Notonegoro, explains.

For the SIAP SIAGA team, it was a great success. “We had anywhere from 60 to 130 attendees for each of the webinars, which is fairly significant considering we only promoted it on social media and through our networks.” Lacey-Hall said. He adds that there was plenty of discussion, lively debates, and an active chat throughout.

But the team didn’t stop with webinars. “There were three main themes identified as problematic during the webinars; governance and institutional leadership, partnership models, and technology and communications,” explains the program’s strategic adviser Said Faizal “And we really wanted to drill down into those themes, so we put out a call for papers, two for each topic, and got some great responses.”

The resulting six academic papers formed the basis for the culmination of SIAP SIAGA’s webinar series, a Regional Lessons Learning Symposium on COVID-19 and Disaster Management. Also hosted online and drawing more than 250 participants, the Symposium reflected on how COVID-19 has affected the region’s capacity to manage disasters through the lens of the findings from the six papers.

Again, Lacey-Hall notes that the Symposium was not only well-attended but sparked debates and discussions throughout the day. And while he adds that the preference would have been to meet in person, they still managed to break out into working groups and come away with a tight set of recommendations for those people and organisations working in disaster management under the three original key themes.

“We also came away with two really important and cross-cutting key points on localisation and resilience,” he notes. “When you’re stuck in a situation like a pandemic, it’s important that people are as resilient as possible. But to promote that resilience, international and national actors must recognise and respect local actors’ agency and ensure that decisions are made as locally and close as possible to the disaster itself.”

This is just the beginning for SIAP SIAGA, and the outcomes from the papers and Symposium are expected to provide valuable input for the UN’s Seventh Session of the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction, which will be held in Indonesia in 2022.

Further information on the Symposium, including the six preparatory papers and video links to all sessions can be found on the SIAP SIAGA website. The Australian-Indonesian Partnership in Disaster Risk Management (SIAP SIAGA) is funded by Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) and implemented by Palladium. Contact to learn more.