Nargis memory spurs resilience training

United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction - Regional Office for Asia and Pacific
Many farmers have struggled to bounce back after the devastating Cyclone Nargis in 2008 (Photo: Foreign and Commonwealth Office)
Many farmers have struggled to bounce back after the devastating Cyclone Nargis in 2008 (Photo: Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

SIEM REAP, Cambodia, 8 February 2016 – A new training centre located close to the scene of one of the worst disasters of recent decades is championing the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction’s call to engage all sectors and levels of society for effective risk management.

The Myanmar Disaster Management Training Centre is using the Sendai Framework – a 15-year global agreement that aims to curb deaths and economic losses from natural and man-made hazards – to guide its curriculum development as it seeks to strengthen disaster risk management capacity across the hazard-prone country.

The centre, which opened two months ago, is located in Hinthada, Ayeyarwady Division, just north of the area which experienced the worst devastation during the catastrophic Cyclone Nargis. Official figures record that 84,500 people were killed and 53,800 listed as missing as a result of the cyclone and consequent storm surge in May 2008.

The Deputy Director of the Ministry of Social Welfare’s Relief and Resettlement Department, Dr. Min Thein, is part of the training centre team. He said that the experience of Nargis is a sharp reminder of the challenge in hand to protect the country’s population of 54 million, many of whom are exposed and vulnerable to floods, landslides, storms and earthquakes among other hazards.

“According to available studies, five years after Cyclone Nargis, only 25 percent of the agricultural land that was affected had fully recovered. With such a finding one can only imagine the challenge we have to build disaster resilience in our country that still relies so much on agriculture for livelihoods,” Dr. Thein said during a meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Cambodia.

“But we are proud of our achievements so far. We are the first and only centre in Myanmar with a specific focus on strengthening capacity in disaster risk management and already we have a very fruitful and complete introduction on the subject.”

The centre offers two-week courses for 60 participants. Thirty are drawn from the Ministry of Social Welfare’s Relief and Resettlement Department, 15 from other government ministries and 15 from various community organizations. Dr. Thein explains the reason for such a mixed composition: “We do this because we know that building disaster resilience is a team effort. The great strength of our country is its partnerships at the community level. We are trying to strengthen these.”

Dr. Thein has ambitions that the centre will evolve into an institution that offers courses which are regionally recognized and accredited up to diploma level and even beyond: “As we do so, the Sendai Framework will help us to adjust our focus and revise plans and requirements at the community level so that disaster resilience is strengthened.”

While much has been achieved, Dr. Thein points to significant challenges: “In particular, we have not had sufficient human resources for training. In addition, we have gaps in our technical capacity but we are working to improve and expand.”

He cites fellow ASEAN country the Philippines as a good example for what it has achieved in terms of disaster risk management education. While the Myanmar disaster management training centre receives a budget allocation from central government to run its courses, it is looking to expand its partnerships to reach out further.

The opening of the training center builds on previous efforts of the Relief and Resettlement Department which trained 4,800 youth volunteers nationally to support efforts to build local resilience in terms of disaster management and social protection.

Dr. Thein and his Director at the Ministry of Social Welfare’s Relief and Resettlement Department, Mr. Nay Win, shared Myanmar’s efforts to strengthen disaster risk management education capacity with National Disaster Management Office representatives from South-East Asia. They were speaking at the ASEAN-China Seminar on Disaster Management and Emergency Response, hosted by the Government of Cambodia and organized with the support of the Government of China and the ASEAN Secretariat.

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