Two year after the striking of cyclone Nargis, Myanmar held a general election to form the new national and regional legislatures. The general election was highly influenced by the political process in the aftermath of disaster. The military junta that had the highest authority for a long time had opened the chances to reserve a quarter of the seats in national and regional legislatures for the army and by creating a powerful new national defence and security council controlled by commander in chief (ICG, 27 May 2010). Myanmar cyclone Nargis in May 2008 had opened the opportunities for international actors to involve on the recovery process in the aftermath of disaster. The cyclone Nargis had taken 130.000 deaths within a week (The Economist, 2008) and became one of three mega disasters in the region along with Asian tsunami in December 2004 and US cyclone Katrina in August 2005. The Myanmar military junta had changed policies by opening up a briefing with the United Nations agencies and diplomatic communities to welcome international assistance to Myanmar. Although it would appear, in this stage, that the assistance was primarily bilateral or going directly to the Myanmar government agencies. The Myanmar government had pledge to accept humanitarian assistance as long as it has nothing to do with the political interest. Furthermore, the changing policies gave space for international actors to involve in the Myanmar domestic affairs.
The Myanmar government had announced that there would be a focal person to expedite visa applications by international organizations. The visas and access to Myanmar by international agencies had been opened by a number of regional partners and this issue has been taken up by the Myanmar Permanent Mission in New York and Myanmar embassy in Bangkok with the Myanmar government in-country.
Within two year in post cyclone Nargis, the Myanmar government was taking a lead in coordinating national effort through an Emergency Committee, headed by the Prime Minister, and has put into operation on a national disaster management plan. The Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief, and Resettlement, is spearheading the relief responses (UN Flash Appeal on Myanmar Tropical Cyclone Nargis, 2008). The United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator is organizing international support through the Humanitarian Country Team, comprised of UN agencies, international NGOs, national NGOs consortia, IOM, with IFRC and ICRC as observers, to support the Myanmar government’s responses.
For the international actors, disaster management in international relations is part of security threat. Disaster management is not only about humanitarian phenomenon but also categorized as a nontraditional security threat. As a threat to security, disaster management needs a quick response, regional cooperation in the region, and support from international actors as well as international community.
In the aftermath of cyclone Nargis, the Myanmar military junta had kept away the involvement of the Western states by refusing international aids from the Western states. It has changed when the military junta applied a precondition for any international aids to Myanmar that any international humanitarian assistance should have not related with the political interest mainly from the Western states. The changes on the pattern of humanitarian assistance in the aftermath of cyclone Nargis has shown that it was pure humanitarian assistance, no political interest, and kept away from the domestic frictions in the Myanmar domestic affairs.
Conversely, the ASEAN as the closest neighbour states of Myanmar in the region had started the involvement in the Myanmar domestic affairs. It was started with the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) meeting in New Zealand in 1997 to focus not only on the traditional role as the neighbour states but also strengthening the involvement in the security matter. The security issue in South East Asian region included nontraditional threat and disaster management was part of it. The ASEAN member states have seen Myanmar as a fragile state toward natural disasters. Therefore, it needed exchange information and experiences among the ASEAN member states in dealing with the natural disaster as well as managing the international humanitarian assistance in the aftermath of disaster.
The result of ARF meeting in New Zealand in 1997 has reduced the ASEAN traditional roles in the regional affairs in the last ten years because the management of nontraditional threat in the region has just been a formality. The commitment of ASEAN member states in the aftermath of ARF meeting had been formulated into the establishment of ASEAN Committee on Disaster Management that later on has been changed into ASEAN Framework on Disaster Management.
The Myanmar cyclone Nargis has become the breakthrough for the ASEAN member states to formulate the ASEAN Humanitarian Task Force for the Victims of Cyclone Nargis (AHTF). The AHTF has tasks to strengthen capacity building including trading expert and financial support toward Myanmar. However the AHTF faced obstacles to run the financial support toward member states’ contributions. Each member state of ASEAN has different financial capacity and different level of GDP that made them unable to deliver sustainable financial support. It means the AHTF only had temporary supporting fund in the disaster management in Myanmar. Surprisingly, Vietnam as a small state in the region was able to deliver a huge amount of supporting fund toward disaster management in Myanmar in post cyclone Nargis.
The AHTF was running for two years in the aftermath of Myanmar cyclone Nargis and its programme will end up in 2010. The humanitarian assistance tasks that had been done by the AHTF would be continued by the Myanmar government to run the sustainability of the humanitarian assistance. Furthermore, the ASEAN member states would help each other when there were two or more natural disasters had strike in the same time.
ASEAN has a vision to be more people oriented in 2015 along with the increasing member states’ awareness of living in the region of disaster. The ASEAN people oriented tried to be more integrated into the whole ASEAN community. The integration of ASEAN community was based on common awareness of having similar threat or the striking of natural disaster in the region. As a regional organization, ASEAN has policies toward disaster management within the member states however it faced obstacles on the supporting fund to implement the policies. ASEAN has no endowment fund to deliver disaster management programmes even though it is an imperative issue among international actors.
The formulation of ASEAN mechanism on disaster management had been ratified by ten member states in the Christmas Eve night of 2009. It was a regional agreement on the disaster management to involve comprehensive approach to manage the region-prone to disaster. It applied on how to secure the victims in the aftermath of disaster and became extended tasks into operational engine of cooperation. Furthermore, Indonesia will be the host of the ASEAN disaster management mechanism that will be established in Jakarta soon. The disaster management mechanism asked the outcome on the standard operational committee of the ASEAN by simply put as what need to be done, what should be contested, and what should be included on the comprehensive publications. (Emilia Yustiningrum)