Addressing Earthquake Preparedness and Response – Multi-Stakeholder Approach Needed

Jointly organized by the Government agencies and host of INGOs and donors, the second Myanmar Earthquake Forum was held during the 13th – 14th July 2018 at Yangon. It has brought together over 200 representatives from the government departments, CSO, INGO and donors and experts in the area of disaster preparedness, relief and rehabilitation. The participants deliberated and shared experiences related to preparedness planning, coordination among various departments, quick response protocols and plans and how to build community awareness of disasters like earthquakes.

The urban landscape of Myanmar, particularly Yangon City, which is located in the earthquake fault lines, has changed dramatically over the past decade with the migration of population density, traffic and increase in the number of high rise buildings. These pose significant risks in terms of casualties in the event of an earthquake.

The unpredictable nature of earthquakes brings to the fore the need for preparedness in terms of earthquake-proof building technology, urban planning, evacuation plans for high-rise buildings and etc.  Preparedness of authorities, roles of other CSO stakeholders, families and communities in terms of quick response, identification of potential high-density areas like schools, markets and hospitals and preparedness and evacuation plans are some of the aspects discussed during the Forum.

On the second day of the Forum, addressing the gathering Speaker of the Yangon Regional Parliament U Tin Maung Tun pointed out that “challenges of climate change and related disasters have to be addressed by all stakeholders and disaster management is not only about responding to any disaster, but it is about identification, preparedness, and prevention so that risks can be minimized”.

He pointed out that “government has the major responsibility in addressing disasters, at the same time cooperation and support of others is important, particularly that of CSOs, NGOs, donors and UN system, to work closely with the government and educate people”.  Laws, rules and urban planning need to accommodate concerns of disasters like earthquakes so that adequate safety precautions can be taken.

In his address, Secretary of National Disaster Management Committee and Union Deputy Minister for Ministry of Social Welfare Relief and Rehabilitation U Soe Aung pointed out that the union government has allocated 20billion Kyat for disaster management to respond to disasters through relief, rehabilitation and for preparedness. Pointing out the need for role clarity for different stakeholders, the minister identified key areas to address viz., preparedness, emergency response, and rehabilitation and reconstruction.  An earthquake would always be a most devastating disaster as it is unpredictable and the need for preparedness is most critical to minimize the damage and loss of life. Livelihood restoration, psycho-social support is also critical during earthquake relief and rehabilitation.

Speaking on the occasion, Daw Win Win Thein, program officer of ECHO highlighted the need for preparing communities through training and simulation exercises in schools and hospitals.

Public awareness and private sector involvement are also critical so that damage and loss of life can be reduced. In her opening remarks, Country Director of ActionAid Myanmar, Araddhya Mehtta, pointed out the need for “community-based risk reduction plans so that the voices of the people, particularly of vulnerable groups like women, children and young people are heard. A joint approach to disaster risk reduction is critical as it is not the task of the government or of one organisation alone”.

The Forum is hoping to arrive at joint work plans so that a collaborative engagement will continue among all the agencies so that it would enhance capacities towards preparedness and response to disasters like earthquakes.

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