Malaysia a Key Link in Asia’s Disaster Resilience Plan

This post was published in the summer 2013 issue of the MIT SCALE Network electronic newsletter Supply Chain Frontiers. Subscribe to this free publication and access current and past issues here.

Asia accounts for an estimated 86% of the reported disaster victims worldwide[1]. How can the region build the capacity it needs to respond effectively to these crises?

This was one of the main talking points at the 2013 Health & Humanitarian Logistics Conference, hosted by the Malaysia Institute for Supply Chain Innovation (MISI) in Malaysia this June.

Asia has many low-lying areas, which means that flooding is a perennial problem. Earthquakes also take a toll; the quake and ensuing tsunami that devastated parts of Japan in 2011 is probably the most infamous example in recent years.

To get an idea of the range and severity of these calamities, visit the website of the AHA Centre (the ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on disaster management). Created by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, the AHA Centre collates information on disasters in the region. On a random day in July this year, it posted updates on a 6.2 magnitude earthquake in Indonesia and floods in Indonesia, Thailand, and Vietnam.

In addition to the incalculable humanitarian cost of major incidents like these, there is also the damage done to global supply chain operations. Witness the massive disruptions to supply chains worldwide caused by the 2011 tsunami in Japan. Any effort to improve disaster response services, therefore, benefits the private sector as well.

“When disasters strike the response depends on the ability to mobilize logistics capacity – facilities, equipment, stocks, and personnel – in restoring livelihoods for affected populations and continuity for affected businesses. When the local or national capacity is overwhelmed the government may request regional or international support. Building the right logistics capacity at each level is critical, which is why we featured this topic at the conference in Malaysia,” said Dr. Jarrod Goentzel, Director, MIT Humanitarian Response Lab, co-sponsor and co-organizer of the MISI conference.

A new pattern is being established in the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) region. The first reaction to a disaster would come from local and national responders, as expected. But rather than calling in global resources for large disasters, a regional response will kick in, with the emphasis being on ASEAN countries working together to mitigate the effects of disasters. The AHA Centre is based on this philosophy.

But much work remains to be done before such a strategy is in place. One of the key issues is how to build the cross-regional financial, human, materials, supply chain, and technological capacities that underpin the strategy.

“It is a multi-layered challenge that requires new levels of international cooperation in Asia, but the strategies developed could be a model for other regions in the world,” said MISI Assistant Professor Dr. John Park.

He moderated the Capacity Building for Resilience panel at the June conference that discussed the challenge. The panel included Ian Heigh, Director, Everywhere Humanitarian Response and Logistics Services; Dr. Ahmad Faizal Mohd Perdaus, President of MERCY Malaysia; and Harlan Hale, East Asia/Pacific Regional Advisor for the USAID Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance. The panelists were representative of the different players involved.

A central theme of the discussions was the need to pool resources across large and small organizations, and to share supplies and knowledge. A lack of standardization – for example, on what support is required in specific situations – and a shortage of the right skills, difficulties in forecasting disasters, and working with governments rather than bypassing them, are some of the issues that were explored.

“It was quite encouraging to witness the passion of participants from different organizations and backgrounds for sharing their experience and knowledge on how to improve current practices,” said Park.

Education and training are critically important, and this is where the MIT SCALE Network is playing a role. As Goentzel pointed out, every center in the SCALE network offers a graduate course in humanitarian logistics, which is a unique resource. Each center is also engaged in practical training, such as a program this fall at MISI for UN logistics staff members from Cambodia, Myanmar, Nepal, Philippines, and Pakistan. CLI does not offer courses, but rather a series of lectures during two 3-week residence stays. Humanitarian logistics was one of the topics covered during the recent residence in July 2013.

Malaysia is the hub for humanitarian logistics in Asia. The country hosts key facilities such as the United Nations Response Depot (UNHRD) and the Red Cross Regional Logistics Unit.

A 2013 MISI Master of Science in Supply Chain Management program thesis analyzes the transportation needs of UNHRD. Titled Chartering vs Commercial Air-Freight from UNHRD Subang in Response to Disaster in South East Asia, the research was conducted by student Song Yang and supervised by MISI Assistant Professor Dr. Ioannis Lagoudis. The research focuses on the cost and service aspects of two different types of air transportation options under different scenarios.

Asia’s regional approach to disaster response represents a major step forward in making the region more resilient to large-scale disruptions. And MISI is making an important contribution to this effort.

Said Park, “With its focus on practical training and research and a network of disaster response experts across the SCALE Network, I believe MISI will play a critical role in improving the effectiveness of disaster response in Asia.”

Further information on the 2013 Health & Humanitarian Logistics Conference is available at: http://www.misi.edu.my/humlog2013/program/. For more information on the SCALE Network’s humanitarian logistics programs, contact Dr. Jarrod Goentzel, and for the MISI program, contact Dr. John Park.


[1] Guha-Sapir D, Vos F, Below R, with Ponserre S. Annual Disaster Statistical Review 2011: The Numbers and Trends. Brussels: CRED; 2012.

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