Asia & the Pacific Regional Humanitarian Partnership Week
December 9-14, 2022 in Bangkok, Thailand
Hosted by International Council of Voluntary Agencies, The Asian Disaster Reduction & Response Network, Community World Service Asia, and United Nations OCHA
Airlink staff Jenny Torner, Humanitarian Programs Manager for Asia & the Pacific, and Claire Leow, Regional Representative for Asia & the Pacific, attended the Asia & the Pacific Regional Humanitarian Partnership Week hosted by ICVA, ADRRN, CWSA, and UNOCHA in Bangkok, Thailand.
The gathering of 400 representatives of NGOs in Bangkok at the end of a year when the world emerged into a post-pandemic reality was a timely reminder of the challenges facing us, that, if anything, were made more urgent by the isolation caused by policy responses to the pandemic.
Rising to Challenges
During the conference, we spent time providing attendees with an overview of Airlink with a presentation session titled “Crisis Logistics in Asia & the Pacific: Creating Partnerships for Effective Responses,” focused on the complex nature of logistics within APAC’s humanitarian space.
This session brought together humanitarian response organizations that work in Asia & the Pacific to discuss the accessibility and logistics constraints and concerns across the region.
We led four discussion groups covering some key stages of a humanitarian response, ranging from logistical success stories, to logistical challenges and barriers, to the overall status of the humanitarian space in Asia & the Pacific, and ways forward to ensure timely and relevant support.
Participants discussed country-specific logistical issues, such as limited or damaged infrastructure, mountainous or difficult terrain, and remote or hard-to-access populations such as in the Pacific Islands that require creative transportation solutions.
Ensuring the relevance of aid in a crisis response was a key point made by a number of participants. By focusing on centering communication with local actors regarding the needs of the community following a crisis, the sector can reduce the amount of unnecessary humanitarian cargo, thereby reducing waste and hindrance to a response.
Participants also shared success stories and lessons learned from their own experiences. For example, groups working in Afghanistan have used regional warehouses to preposition supplies, thereby cutting down on transportation time when a crisis occurred. Groups from the Philippines discussed the importance of supply chain planning before a crisis, developing preparedness and response strategies for when an anticipated crisis such as a typhoon occurs.
Outside of our own session, we attended a number of presentations and panel discussions focused on a wide range of pressing issues such as safeguarding, increasing incidence of extreme weather events, private sector partnerships, and refugee protections.
However, the two most salient points of discussion throughout the conference were localization and the need for creative solutions to inadequate funding. The first helps in the timeliness of response, as well as to blunt the trauma of a disaster or event with familiar help and subsequently aid in building resilient communities. The second focuses on the fact that year after year, funds fall short of (increasing) needs.
The importance of centering local communities and organizations in humanitarian response cannot be overstated. By prioritizing the inclusion of local actors and the leadership of local organizations, humanitarian response programs have the opportunity to grow through ensuring appropriateness of responses and through increasing sustainability.
It is no secret that humanitarian responses are largely underfunded worldwide. The United Nations appealed for a 25% increase in funding for 2023 to a record USD 51.5 billion even though funding requests in 2022 were only half met. If the UN is unable to raise the funds to meet the needs of its member organizations, the situation is even more dire for local organizations that lack access to large donors such as the UN.
Through dynamic conversations, presentations and panel discussions, humanitarian actors from all across the region provided their insights and experience in navigating these ongoing challenges. Knowing the challenges is but the first step in finding solutions.
The evident diversity of the attendees also underscored the myriad challenges wrought by different cultures, linguistic barriers, norms, cross-border differences and other known or unknown issues. Yet, hope was the overriding sentiment, a sense of urgency aided by the very sense of recent loss, missed opportunities, societal reflection and broader situational awareness that the pandemic had brought to the fore. Any business-as-usual sentiment was promptly and frankly eviscerated as voice after voice advocated for action, courage and boldness.