When The Straits Times named a group of people and relief organisations, collectively called The First Responders, as Asians of the Year, it was to send a message to the region as much as to recognise the work of the unselfish stalwarts involved in relief efforts. The message is that while much of Asia has been fixated on geostrategic issues, the region has tended to overlook the significance of threats from disasters, whether they be earthquakes and tsunamis in Indonesia, or floods in Japan and Southern India. Some of these calamities are acts of God. But many are the result of Man's incessant violation of Nature. Either way, such disasters have left many stunned because of their frequency, intensity and reach.
Two things have been clear for a decade. First, Asia has become the region most vulnerable to natural disasters. Second, the scale and intensity of disasters have grown. South-east Asia, where average temperatures have been rising every decade since 1960, seems particularly vulnerable. The Global Climate Risk Index listed Vietnam, Myanmar, the Philippines and Thailand among the 10 nations most affected by climate change in the past two decades. The Asian Development Bank, which said in 2009 that climate change could shave 6.7 per cent off the region's economy by the end of the century, raised that estimate to 11 per cent just six years later. In short, the region is approaching crisis levels.