[Dateline: Bangkok | Author: iSeek]
Six months after Cyclone Nargis struck Myanmar, United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) and other key partners in the country’s recovery process gathered in Bangkok to assess best ways to strengthen joint efforts to support inclusive and sustainable recovery.
The two-day “Regional High-level Expert Group Meeting on Post-Nargis Recovery and Livelihood Opportunities in Myanmar” was organized by ESCAP and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), with support of the Government of the Union of Myanmar.
It brought together UN officials, high-ranking Myanmar government officials, representatives of ASEAN as well as other international partners and disaster experts with experience in the region’s 2004 Asian Tsunami, the 2005 Pakistan earthquake, and the 2007 Cyclone Sidr in Bangladesh.
USG Noeleen Heyzer, who heads ESCAP, noted the toll that Cyclone Nargis had taken on Myanmar, and said the expert group meeting represented a turning point in the partnership of the UN and ASEAN with the Myanmar Government. “This experts’ group meeting should be seen as a stepping stone to move beyond discussing Nargis-related recovery strategies to a wider discussion on the future development direction for Myanmar as a whole,” she said.
The meeting, Ms. Heyzer indicated, was timely, expressing the hope that its outcome would feed into the Post-Nargis Recovery and Preparedness Plan (PONREPP), as well as the ongoing TCG Periodic Review (Tripartite Core Group, comprising ASEAN, the Government of Myanmar and the United Nations), and the ASEAN-UN Summit to be held in Thailand in mid-December. ESCAP, as the UN system’s regional liaison for the meeting, is working with the Government of Thailand – the current chair of ASEAN – to finalize the Summit agenda in the coming weeks.
The expert group meeting followed visits in May and June by Ms. Heyzer to Myanmar, during which Government representatives and the UN Country Team welcomed the idea of ESCAP, as part of the advisory group to the ASEAN Humanitarian Task Force and the regional development arm of the United Nations, convening a series of regional expert group meetings and policy dialogues on issues of recovery and reconstruction in post-Nargis Myanmar.
“I believe this is an opportunity for those who are involved in the post-Nargis recovery efforts to learn from the experience, although painfully gained, of those who have been on a similar path in order to put together a comprehensive and effective early, medium and long-term strategy,” said Myanmar’s Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs, U Kyaw Thu, who is also the Chairman of TCG.
In a keynote address, ASEAN’s Secretary-General, Dr. Surin Pitsuwan, was hopeful that the presence of ESCAP, and experts from Pakistan, Indonesia, Bangladesh and various international agencies at the meeting would enhance the capacity of the region, “to add on to the lessons that we have learnt and translate the lessons into practical procedures.”
Dr. Pitsuwan warned: “If we are not prepared, we will be in deeper trouble the next time around.”
The meeting provided a regional-level platform to share experiences among regional and international policy experts on best practices emerging from recent disasters in the Asia-Pacific region. The outcome would inform the medium and long-term post-Nargis recovery strategies, particularly on issues of disaster risk reduction, sustainable settlement policies, livelihood recovery strategies, and restoring economic and social infrastructure.
It also provided an apportunity for Nargis recovery partners to develop a consensus on priorities and strategies for effectively moving from relief efforts to recovery and longer-term economic and social development, including mobilizing greater technical and financial support.
Ms. Heyzer said ESCAP was committed to supporting further consultations between Myanmar representatives and experts in the region, noting that such consultations would address ways to better capture and institutionalize experiences and lessons learnt as part of a knowledge-based system that could be readily accessed, to facilitate the mobilization of expert teams in order to provide better assistance in the future.
The next such meeting would be held with donors so as to encourage increased assistance to fill critical funding gaps.
Addressing a session on settlement plans and country experiences held as part of the meeting, Mr. Heru Prasetyo of the Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Agency for Aceh and Nias shared critical lessons from the Aceh tsunami reconstruction effort. “There is a need for continuous coordination of funding, programmes and resources, as well as ongoing monitoring, accountability and public communication,” he said.