The Center for A New American Security is currently hosting a working group series ‘Climate and Security in Asia’ the purpose of which is to explore opportunities to advance U.S. security and foreign policy in the Asia Pacific through climate engagement, particularly projects that seek to reduce risks of natural disasters, improve disaster planning and response, and enhance infrastructure resiliency.
Last month, we were honored to have Greg Beck, deputy assistant administrator for Asia at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), visit the group to share details about USAID ‘s on-going disaster risk reduction (DRR), resilience, and climate adaptation related-engagement in the Asia Pacific and the related State-USAI Joint Regional Strategy for East Asia and the Pacific.
As Beck shared, USAID recognizes that environmental degradation and resource scarcity can undermine a country’s efforts to achieve economic security and political stability. Like those in the security community, decision makers at USAID acknowledge that climate change is a ‘threat multiplier.’ Beck noted that these emerging conditions and threats are recognized within the State-USAID Joint Regional Strategy for East Asia and the Pacific, which is a part of the U.S. Government’s efforts to rebalance our foreign policy focus to reflect the growing prominence of Asia in the world. The State Department and USAID recognize that addressing climate change is critical to mitigating non-military threats to the U.S. and to reducing regional instability which can undermine democracy and economic stability.
Interestingly, just a week prior to Beck’s visit to CNAS, the U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM) and the Australian Department of Defence (A DoD) gathered 85 delegates representing 18 countries at the 2013 Pacific Environmental Security Forum, the goal of which was to build military readiness in response to impacts of extreme weather events on regional peace, security and prosperity. The takeaways from the conference were the need to improve information sharing across countries and to build partner capacity (BPC).
Based on Beck’s summary of what USAID is doing in the region, it is clear that USAID is making great strides in the Asia Pacific Region doing just that –building local capacity to reduce risk to natural disasters and improve disaster planning and response, and promoting collaboration and information sharing among partner nations. In FY2012, USAID provided $481 million for Global Climate Change of which of which $96 million was for the Asia Pacific region. Below, we highlight some of USAID’s ongoing efforts in the region.
Building Capacity around Disaster Risk Reduction and Resiliency (DRR)
Currently, USAID is funding the ASEAN Humanitarian Assistance Center’s Disaster Monitoring and Response System (DMRS) through the Pacific Disaster Center to develop a multi-hazard early warning and decision support system. The DMRS will compile and transform information from national and international hazard monitoring and disaster warning agencies on events such as earthquakes, floods, tsunamis, and other natural disasters into a regional, event-tracking and decision-support tool that utilizes maps and modeling applications. The Centre is critical because it seeks to coordinate activities with the national disaster management offices of all ASEAN Member States.
USAID provides assistance to 12 Pacific Island nations (Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Republic of Marshall Islands, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu), which are particularly vulnerable to climate change impacts including more frequent and extreme weather events and sea level rise. To build capacity around disaster risk reduction and resiliency, the USAID is collaborating with two of the South Pacific’s regional organizations: the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) and the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Program (SPREP). USAID works with the SPC to strengthen food security among farming communities in Fiji, Kiribati, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, and Vanuatu. Specifically, USAID support enabled Fiji, Solomon Islands, Kiribati, and Tonga to develop GIS data and land-use/vegetation cover maps for to identify food security hot spots, inform stakeholder engagement, and assist in identifying adaptation measures. USAID also supports the SPREP to improve the resilience of water resources in Kiribati’s outer island communities and promote healthy ecosystems in the Solomon Islands.
More generally, USAID supports the Coastal Community Adaptation Project which aims to build the resiliency of vulnerable coastal communities in the region to adapt to climate change impacts. The program supports rehabilitating or constructing new, small-scale community infrastructure; building capacity for community engagement for disaster prevention and preparedness; and integrating climate resilient policies and practices into long-term land use plans and building standards.
USAID has played an instrumental role helping the six Coral Triangle (CT) countries (Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Solomon Islands and Timor-Leste) develop a powerful new platform and model of partnership to address the CT’s transboundary environmental resource management and economic security concerns. In 2009, the six nations formed the Coral Triangle Initiative on Coral Reefs, Fisheries and Food Security (CTI-CFF) and launched a ten year regional plan of action. Viewed as one of the most innovative ocean governance initiatives, these nations are working collaboratively to prepare for and respond to the impacts of climate change and natural disasters.
More recently, in the wake of Burma’s political opening, USAID’S Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) is working closely with the country’s coastal communities on issues of disaster risk reduction. In FY2012, USAID/OFDA initiated a program that is supporting the creation of village disaster and contingency plans, establishment of village disaster preparedness committees and associated training, and rehabilitation of mangroves, which can serve to mitigate natural disasters by greatly reducing the strength of tsunamis or cyclone waves.
Finally, as part of the Lower Mekong Initiative (LMI), which was created in response to the July 23, 2009 meeting between then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the Foreign Ministers of the Lower Mekong Countries (Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam), USAID supports several disaster risk reduction and infrastructure resiliency projects. In particular, USAID’s is collaborating with LMI partner countries to advance innovations and international standards in infrastructure development to mitigate environmental and social impacts of major investments in hydropower, oil and gas sectors, and transportation systems. Central to all of these projects is the emphasis on facilitating knowledge sharing among countries and improving the management of national and transboundary natural resources.
USAID’s focus on disaster risk reduction and preparedness programs makes good business sense. The United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) released its Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction report last week, which reported that “direct losses from disasters are in the range of $2.5 trillion” in this century alone. The total average loss from earthquakes and wind damage from tropical cyclones is estimated to be more than $180 billion per year. Clearly, investing up front to help countries prevent and prepare for disasters and inject more resiliency into their infrastructure systems is a good business decision. However, as a recent Overseas Development Institute (ODI) report notes, historically, only a small percentage of total foreign assistance has been directed to disaster prevention and preparedness. According to ODI, over the past two decades, the international community has pledged more than $3 trillion in aid; of that, $93.2 billion was spent on disaster relief and reconstruction while $13.5 billion was devoted to prevention and preparedness.
Climate related projects can advance U.S. security interests, particularly when the investments and technical assistance help countries reduce risks of natural disasters, improve disaster planning and response, and enhance infrastructure resiliency. The projects that Greg Beck and others at USAID are shepherding serve those ends and will be instrumental in helping U.S. successfully meet the ambitious goals of its Joint Regional Strategy for East Asia and the Pacific.