* Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.Many laws are too vague to be fully effective, and fail to promote safety in urban slums, Red Cross says
Bangkok/Geneva/New York, 25 June 2014 – Findings from a new joint report from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Societies (IFRC) and the United Nations 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.
Disaster risks are increasing globally and over 40 percent of annual disaster events occur in Asia Pacific. This 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 in the region. These factors increase the vulnerability of already 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. It calls for greater focus on the implementation of existing legislation, including ensuring local authorities are equipped with the 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,” said 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 the ones who 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 disaster risk reduction (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 sectorial laws such as safety codes and development planning regulations, as well as environmental management and climate change laws,” said 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. “Strong legal frameworks can create an enabling environment for building community resilience and we hope the good examples set in this region will encourage other governments in Asia to follow suit.”
At least ten countries in Asia Pacific have adopted new laws for disaster management since 2005 – the year when governments signed up to the Hyogo Framework for Action (a ten year plan to make the world safer from natural hazards). This trend of adopting 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, and delves into the impact that a comprehensive legal framework can have on a country’s ability to face natural hazards.
The report, including all the studies used to inform it, is available at www.drr-law.org