Tailoring Assistance to Governments’ Needs in Asia and the Pacific

2011 was unusual for Asia and the Pacific. It remained the world’s most disaster-prone region, but its deadliest disasters occurred in wealthy countries, such as Japan, New Zealand and Thailand.

These countries opted not to appeal for international assistance, despite offers of support from governments around the world. Instead, they requested targeted assistance based on needs. This represents an important shift in how some countries are interacting with the international humanitarian community.

The Great East Japan earthquake and tsunami was the year’s deadliest disaster. It killed almost 20,000 people and caused around $210 billion in damages. Despite Japan being one of the world's best disaster-prepared countries, the devastation was so severe that offers of assistance demanded coordination on an international scale. Those offers came from more than 160 countries and 43 international organizations. Nearly 30 international search-and-rescue teams responded and 63 countries sent relief goods. OCHA’s Financial Tracking Service shows that Japan received over $722 million, mostly through individual donations.

Japan carefully selected the assistance it needed to support national response efforts. In the hours following the disaster on 11 March, the Government requested a joint OCHA/UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) team to be dispatched to Tokyo. The team immediately set up a coordination cell, which provided a humanitarian overview of the crisis through daily situation reports and information management services. The team also advised the Government on how best to coordinate international offers of humanitarian assistance, and it provided remote support from Tokyo to the urban search-and-rescue efforts in the Tohoku region.

Japan’s Director for Humanitarian Assistance and Emergency Relief Division in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Yutaka Aoki said: "The OCHA/UNDAC team played a vital role in assisting the Government to manage the incoming life-saving international assistance. OCHA also effectively complemented the Government efforts in disseminating humanitarian analysis and communicating with international humanitarian actors by issuing situation reports."

Japan’s strategy is being adopted by other countries in the region, some of which have strengthened their disaster management capacity in recent years.

According to Oliver Lacey-Hall, the OCHA Regional Head for Asia and the Pacific, "governments need help in understanding how the international disaster response system works. They need to target their requests for assistance, rather than be overrun by poorly coordinated and unregulated aid, as we saw following the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami."

OCHA is shifting its focus in the region accordingly. It is working with partners on redefining humanitarian response, and helping governments and regional organizations to understand how and where they can use international preparedness-and-response tools and services. It is also developing a guide for governments on how international assistance works—a clear and simple overview on how to access knowledge, humanitarian response tools and services.

 

A Japanese Red Cross volunteer surveys the damage in Iwate prefecture, one week after the 11 March earthquake and tsunami. © Japanese Red Cross Society