I am pleased to deliver this message on the occasion of the 2005 ASEAN Day for Disaster Management which is celebrated in conjunction with the International Day for Disaster Reduction on 12 October, 2005. The ASEAN Ministers responsible for disaster management decided in December 2004 to celebrate the ASEAN Day for Disaster Management to enhance awareness on national and regional activities and thereby secure and sustain participation of all stakeholders in disaster risk reduction activities. Celebrating our ASEAN Day in conjunction with the International Day demonstrates our commitment and belief that disaster management is increasingly becoming a major global concern that can only be effectively addressed by coordinated action at the national, regional and global levels. 

Disaster management has been one of the founding pillars of ASEAN regional cooperation since its inception in 1967. Even as we have initiated and implemented various measures over the years, we are continuously being challenged by the ever increasing number and scale of destruction of disasters. The tsunami disaster of December 2004 showed that our mitigation, relief and response effort pales in comparison to the devastation that nature can inflict upon us. It had exposed our weaknesses in collectively addressing such large scale calamities. However, the significant consequence of this unprecedented disaster is the coming together of the world community in an equally unprecedented way to rebuild and strengthen our preparedness.

ASEAN member countries, some of which suffered the worst from the tsunami disaster, took the lead in mobilizing the world leaders and organizing several high level meetings. After the Summit Meeting in Jakarta on 6 January 2005, ASEAN speedily concluded the ASEAN Agreement on Disaster Management and Emergency Response in July 2005. This Agreement represents a legally binding comprehensive framework for implementing disaster reduction activities in the region. We successfully conducted the first ever ASEAN Regional Disaster Emergency Response Simulation Exercise (ARDEX-05) in Malaysia which involved mobilisation of personnel and light to medium equipment from a number of ASEAN Member Countries. Such exercises will become a regular annual event, as a proactive measure to ensure our preparedness and effectiveness in mobilizing resources within the region to countries affected by natural disasters.

The theme for the 2005 International Day for Disaster Reduction calling upon us to “Invest to Prevent Disaster” is very timely. We need to focus on preventive measures, rather than mitigation measures. Our investment should primarily target the community at large, the poor people and vulnerable groups who are most affected by disasters. We should invest to mainstream disaster management into national development initiatives. We should invest in early warning systems so that we are better prepared when disasters inevitably strike. We should make such investment a way of life to ensure a safer and resilient world.

 In closing, let us use this event not only to contemplate on the devastation and tragic losses caused by the recent natural disasters but also to reaffirm our commitment to incorporate disaster risk reduction measures into our daily lives, cultivate closer and complementary partnership among various stakeholders, and sustain our state of disaster preparedness to reduce and prevent loss of lives and property.

 Enjoy a special day of meaningful activities and reflection.

ONG KENG YONG