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AHA Centre and ERCC, sharing the same values and DNA: Pooling regional resources essential in disaster management

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Written by: Hillary Michael Hegarty | EU/ECHO/Ezequiel Scagnetti

Disasters are no respecter of developed or developing nation status, they can strike anywhere in the world, either as a result of natural phenomena or man-made causes. The key to mitigating such disasters is of course planning and preparation, and in the European Union (EU) the organisation mandated with the responsibility of delivering assistance to disaster-stricken areas, whether in EU member states or overseas, is the Emergency Response Coordination Centre (ERCC). The Column looks at the role of the ERCC and examines how it can assist ASEAN in terms of disaster management.

The ERCC describes itself as the heart of the EU civil protection mechanism. It coordinates the delivery of assistance in the event of disasters, providing relief items, expertise, civil protection teams, specialised equipment and much else. The centre ensures the rapid deployment of emergency support and acts as a coordination hub for all EU member states, as well as the United Kingdom and six additional participating states, and the affected country and civil protection and humanitarian experts. The ERCC operates around the clock and can help any country affected by a major disaster upon request from the national authorities or a United Nations body.

Since its inception in 2001, the EU Civil Protection Mechanism has responded to over 420 requests for assistance inside and outside the EU. In developing countries, civil protection assistance typically goes hand in hand with EU humanitarian aid. Experts in both fields work closely together to ensure the most coherent analysis and response, particularly in response to complex emergencies.

A reserve of pre-committed assistance is maintained on standby that can be immediately deployed. These resources provide a fast and coherent European response when the need arises. The quality of the response is ensured through the establishment of specific criteria and a certification process. The ERCC can identify any gaps in European assistance and propose how these gaps can be covered, through financial support from the EU. Pooling member nations’ assistance at a European level boosts the efficiency of the response to any given disaster and can avoid duplication of relief efforts and ensure that assistance is tailored to the needs of those affected.

In early 2020 the EU announced it would launch a EUR 10 million programme to support the AHA Centre, in the form of the “Integrated Programme in Enhancing the Capacity of AHA Centre and ASEAN Emergency Response Mechanisms” or EU-SAHA. This new initiative is designed to strengthen the capacity and sustainability of the centre to achieve operational excellence in disaster monitoring and emergency response; and to enhance mechanisms for the ASEAN leadership to respond as one, through excellence and innovation in disaster management, along the lines of the ERCC model.

Additional support from the European Union was provided through a separate project called “Leveraging ASEAN Capacities for Emergency Response” (LACER), which is implemented by a consortium consisting of the Swedish Civil Contingency Agency (MSB) and the Estonian Rescue Board (ERB). The project is looking to strengthen potential collaboration between the AHA Centre and the European counterparts, in particular through sharing of experiences, knowledge sharing, and capacity building. The AHA Centre was able to engage the ERCC through the support of this project. On 26 January 2021, the LACER project conducted its first webinar to introduce to the AHA Centre the systems and mechanism of the ERCC. Mr. Ionut Homeag, the Team Leader at ERCC, was invited as a speaker to share his knowledge and experiences.

Speaking after the signing of the agreement at the ASEAN Secretariat on January 27, 2020, EU Ambassador to ASEAN H.E. Igor Driesmans stressed the regional approach to dealing with disaster through jointly pooled ASEAN Member States’ expertise and assets managed by the AHA Centre. This presents not only a workable model but also a mechanism to deal with the transboundary nature of disasters, especially climate-induced events, which require strong collaboration and partnership, as has achieved by the EU under the EU Civil Protection Mechanism (EU-CPM) and shepherded by the ERCC, an entity that shares the same values and DNA as the AHA Centre.

There will be several exchanges between the AHA Centre and the ERCC within the framework of the LACER project, aimed at establishing a platform for mutual ASEAN – EU exchange on the institutional as well as the peer-to-peer level.