The RSIS Centre for Non-Traditional Security (NTS) Studies' Blog


ASEAN’s Critical Infrastructure and Pandemic Preparedness

Posted in Health and Human Security by NTSblog on January 22, 2013
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With a myriad of existing ASEAN bodies established to address the threat of pandemics, ASEAN’s challenges lies on bridging capacity gaps in health systems among member states and ensuring the protection of critical infrastructure. ASEAN defines critical infrastructure as:

“The primary physical structures, technical facilities and systems which are socially, economically or operationally essential to the functioning of a society or community, both in routine circumstances and in the extreme circumstances of an emergency.”

A robust and sustainable framework must encapsulate the protection and strengthening of critical infrastructure and ensure the continuity of essential services in the region in the event not only of an outbreak of a pandemic but also of any disaster or emergency. The plans and strategies of the public and private sectors in such circumstances should complement each other and conform to a minimum standard of preparedness. The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) for example, has developed ISO 22301 on business continuity management systems to enable organizations, whether they are governments or businesses, to protect against, prepare for, respond to and recover when disruptions such as pandemics or natural disasters strike.

Such plans require resources, and the challenges of pandemic fatigue and donor fatigue looms at this stage when preparedness plans have already or are in the process of being drawn. For example, the UN Central Fund for Influenza Action’s (UNCFIA) budgets for 2008 and 2010 were huge (USD16.83  million and USD19.22 million, respectively) compared to the meager USD2.48 million budget for 2012.

These plans, however, would only matter if they are operational. Funding inconsistencies therefore impede the realisation of a long-term approach towards strengthening both health and non-health sectors for pandemics, natural disasters and emergencies. As a region home to developing countries and a plethora of risks to emerging infectious diseases and natural disasters anticipated every year, ASEAN must be able to allocate a continuous and efficient flow of resources, invest on health system strengthening and build up public and private sector partnerships. ASEAN must also be able to utilise the existing ASEAN Infrastructure Fund (AIF) not only to finance necessary infrastructure projects but also ensure that in building the region’s critical infrastructure. Through improving capacities in telecommunications, energy, transportation, food, water, sanitation and health and financial institutions, each member state would make strides towards better protection during difficult times and greater continuity of operation despite lack in human resources.

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