New study reveals legal gaps in disaster risk management
Bangkok: Findings from a new joint report from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Societies (IFRC) and the United National Development Programme (UNDP) have underscored the urgent need for governments to establish stronger laws that protect ‘at risk’ communities from the threats posed by natural disasters.
Globally, disaster risks are increasing with over 40% of annual disasters events occurring in Asia Pacific. This rising trend is due to factors such as the increasing intensity of weather related disasters, growing urban populations with more people living in slums and hazard prone areas, and widening socio-economic disparities which are increasing the vulnerability of risk-prone populations.
The ground-breaking report entitled, 'Effective law and regulation for disaster risk reduction’, is an in-depth comparative study of disaster risk reduction legislation in 31 countries worldwide and the first of its kind. It calls for greater focus on the implementation of existing legislation, including by ensuring local authorities are equipped with necessary skills and resources, and more participation of at-risk communities in the formulation of risk reduction laws and policies.
“There has been real progress in modernizing disaster management legislation, but our study shows that even some of the newer laws still have not made the fundamental shift to ensure that prevention is a priority,” says Tessa Kelly, coordinator of the IFRC’s disaster law programme in Asia Pacific. “While expressing the best intentions, many laws are too vague to be fully effective, especially when it comes to funding and community participation in decision-making. We are particularly worried that legal frameworks have not come to grips with how to promote the safety of people living without legal title to their land in urban slums, even though they are most at risk.”
The study is based upon extensive desk reviews, case studies and high-level consultations. It aims to support legislators, public administrators, and DRR and development practitioners and advocates, to prepare and implement effective legal frameworks for disaster risk management
“Strong disaster management laws are crucial, but much more attention needs to be directed to how they link with other sectoral laws such as safety codes and development planning regulations as well as environmental management and climate change laws”, says Sanny Jegillos, Regional Disaster Reduction Adviser from UNDP.
A number of countries from Asia Pacific feature in the report with Viet Nam, the Philippines and New Zealand being held up as positive examples of progress. These countries have strong disaster management laws and have made good progress in initiatives such as establishing effective early warning systems, promoting insurance to help people recover from disaster losses and pushing for greater DRR awareness and education for the public, particularly in schools. In Viet Nam, for example, legislation on early warning has contributed significantly to reducing risk and saving lives from floods and storms.
“Many countries face a huge challenge in implementing laws and regulations at the local level. Ensuring that local authorities have the resources and capacity to carry out their responsibilities under the law is essential,” says Tessa Kelly, adding that, “strong legal frameworks can create an enabling environment for building community resilience and we hope the examples set in countries like Viet Nam, Philippines and New Zealand will encourage other governments in Asia to follow suit”.
At least 10 countries in Asia Pacific have adopted new laws for disaster management since 2005 – the year governments signed up to the Hyogo Framework for Action (a ten year plan to make the world safer from natural hazards). This trend to adopt legislation on disaster management indicates the growing significance of the issue to national development, safety and security. However, the report looks beyond the wording of these new laws to the impact that a comprehensive legal framework can have on a country’s ability to face natural hazards.
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