A look ahead to 2024 in Asia Pacific

by Alexander Matheou | Mar 1, 2024 | Leadership Voices

Let’s look ahead to 2024 in Asia Pacific from Red Cross and Red Crescent.

Dramatic shifts in power in Afghanistan and Myanmar in 2021 put the Asia Pacific region at the forefront of humanitarian attention.

Since then, crises in Europe, Africa and the Middle East have moved Asia Pacific from the spotlight. Still, any humanitarian involved in the region will have their work cut out in 2024.

Here are some of the top issues we’ll be focusing on in IFRC.

First, a priority will remain the complex, protracted crises in the region – Afghanistan, Myanmar, and displacement in Bangladesh.

In Afghanistan, we have entered a new normal of international isolation, underfunded appeals, and chronic vulnerability.

In response, rather than struggle to maintain all the emergency work of recent years, IFRC will orient its support to a few core services designed to run for the medium to long term, including shelter and vocational training for destitute women and reintegration assistance for the hundreds of thousands of people returned from Pakistan.

A priority will remain the complex, protracted crises in the region – Afghanistan, Myanmar, and displacement in Bangladesh.

We will work hard to advocate for donors to support this longer vision as opposed to short cycles of emergency relief.

Myanmar will also suffer from international isolation and from increased violence and displacement.

A divided country will make it harder for capital-based agencies such as IFRC to reach people in need – which will increase reliance on local actors in territories inaccessible from the centre. The number of armed factions and lack of access will deter donors.

In these conditions, IFRC will be unable to achieve much coordinated scale through its work with Myanmar Red Cross, but we will contribute by focusing on capacity building of branches in high-risk areas and by responding, where we can, to the health and climate hazards that so exacerbate vulnerability in the country.

The related, now protracted crisis of displaced Rohingya across the border in Bangladesh will also face challenges from reduced attention and financing. It will become increasingly difficult to talk credibly about safe and dignified return due to worsening security in Myanmar.

Still, post-election in Bangladesh, it may be possible to talk more openly about staying with dignity, and of the negative implications for both the Rohingya and the host communities if the security and living conditions in the camps continue to decline.

IFRC will do its best to fulfil its commitments to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) and health services in camps as in previous years, but in 2024, we will make the case for more emphasis on livelihoods, vocational training, and host community support, in the hope of having more open conversations about the longevity of this displacement.

Alongside these complex crises, Asia Pacific is already in the thick of the long emergency of climate risk. 2022 and 2023 were record years for IFRC in responding to cyclones, floods, heatwaves, and climate-related health risks, such as dengue and filariasis.

On average, we are now responding to two new emergencies per month. In 2023, we had 44 active responses in the region.

World attention and humanitarian financing are too preoccupied with other crises to mobilise for even relatively large-scale climate disasters in Asia Pacific.

This trend is set to continue in 2024. Two factors particularly, one negative and one positive, will change the way we respond compared to previous decades.

First, world attention and humanitarian financing are too preoccupied with other crises to mobilise for even relatively large-scale climate disasters in Asia Pacific. As a result, reliance will be on national and local actors and international appeals are likely to be poorly funded – a trend we have already seen in disasters in Philippines, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Vanuatu.

Second, advancements in preparedness in much of the region is reducing loss of life during climate hazards, which is positive on all accounts even as it contributes to low appeal coverage.

IFRC will concentrate on two complementary strategies in response to these trends. First, we will focus on the capacity of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies to respond as independently as possible.

Secondly, we will use IFRC-Disaster Response Emergency Fund (DREF) to inject rapid financing into these responses when it is needed, avoiding the need to go for appeals unless the scale requires it. Of course, 2024 may also bring new crises.

A mega climate event, such as the disastrous floods in Pakistan in 2022, is always a possibility. All eyes too are on DPRK, both because of growing tensions on the peninsula, and because of continued uncertainty as to whether the government will allow the return of the few international agencies operating there.

IFRC has maintained a presence of national staff throughout the long lockdown even though programmes have ground to a halt.

We are committed to reengage as soon as possible, but what will be needed in terms of response and what will be permitted, is unknown.

Perhaps most worrying of all the unknowns is how risks will develop in the tense South China Sea. The magnitude of these risks is so huge and so sensitive that even contingency planning is daunting and delicate. Yet we must put our minds to such planning in 2024.

Developments in the region’s complex emergencies will depend more on the actions of neighbouring countries than they will on distant, western powers

On the positive side, there are some indications that Asia Pacific countries will take more financial responsibility for multilateral humanitarian action in the region in 2024 – even though such contributions still represent a small fraction of those from traditional donors.

At least in 2023 we saw generous contributions from Asia Pacific for earthquakes in Turkey, Syria, Morocco, and for Ukraine and Gaza.

Income from China and Korea to IFRC is on the rise. Our Asia Pacific Regional Conference was fully funded by national Red Cross and Red Crescent societies in Asia Pacific (including the Middle East and North Africa, MENA) for the first time.

For the wellbeing of the region, and for the viability of the wider multilateral system, this is a trend to build on in 2024. Not just in the strong base of East Asia, but in Southeast Asia and South Asia too.

Finally, developments in the region’s complex emergencies will depend more on the actions of neighbouring countries than they will on distant, western powers. Credible humanitarian diplomacy in the capitals and embassies of influential Asia Pacific countries will be more important than ever in 2024.

This requires a rethink about where, how, and why IFRC pitches messages.

It will need to be less about the ulterior motive of money, more rooted in a realistic analysis of power and influence, and more focused on concrete recommendations to protect dignity of people in crisis.

Copyright: Hoshang Hashimi

Alexander Matheou, the IFRC Regional Director for Asia Pacific, has worked in the humanitarian sector for 20 years, both within and outside the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. He has worked across a variety of fields, including disaster response, food security, social exclusion, displacement and migration, HIV/TB prevention and institutional development. Alexander is a regular contributor of opinion pieces on humanitarian and development issues to an assortment of audiences and forums.

The article was originally published on Astro Awani

Copyright: Hoshang Hashimi

Alexander Matheou, the IFRC Regional Director for Asia Pacific, has worked in the humanitarian sector for 20 years, both within and outside the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. He has worked across a variety of fields, including disaster response, food security, social exclusion, displacement and migration, HIV/TB prevention and institutional development. Alexander is a regular contributor of opinion pieces on humanitarian and development issues to an assortment of audiences and forums.

1 Comment

  1. Abid

    Those who moved from Myanmar to asia have been face economic crisec. We must help them and share to all intenational organization .such as IFRC And IRCS ARCS to help them.

    Reply

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