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Introducing the IFRC/UNDP Checklist on Law and Disaster Risk Reduction by Camilla R Barker FRSA AFHEA
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has warned that natural disasters are increasing worldwide. This is attributed to the increase not only in the frequency and severity of what we might term ‘abnormal’ meteorological events, but also in the number of populations living in precarious situations. International migration, whatever its cause, has immediate and long-term negative impacts on individuals, families, communities, and States. It is no surprise, therefore, that we are witnessing collective calls for better disaster legislation in initiatives such as the 2005 Hyogo Framework for Action (recognised by 168 UN Member States) and the 2015 Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction. In response to those calls, governments across the globe are developing new domestic legislation at a relatively impressive pace. Whilst this increase in legislative activity is undoubtedly welcome considering the desperate need for greater regulation in this area, close attention should be paid to the manner in which that legislation is being developed in order to ensure that the regulation is actually effective. What is the best approach? How should priorities be identified? What works and what does not? These and other questions have been addressed by a joint project of the IFRC and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), with their main product being the Checklist on Law and Disaster Risk Reduction (hereinafter ‘the Checklist’). This article explores why States legislate for disaster risk reduction and introduces the Checklist as an important part of international efforts in that area.
Why legislate for disaster risk reduction?
Law plays a critical role in reducing the risks that are posed by natural disasters. According to the IFRC, disaster risk reduction, also known as risk mitigation, involves activities that limit the adverse impacts of natural hazards in advance of the disaster occurring, which might include requiring new buildings to be more disaster resistant, ensuring that early warning systems are in place to notify the population of potential risks, creating specialist bodies to coordinate and manage disasters when they happen, and training local emergency authorities in disaster-related services. This legislation is crucially important, as States – no matter how well developed – often find their capacities overwhelmed when a disaster strikes. In 2005, for example, the United States – one of the world’s most developed countries according to the Human Development Index – found itself over-stretched in dealing with Hurricane Katrina and the $100 billion worth of direct damage it caused. The consequence of poor legislation in this area, then, is the poor overall management of disasters, which in turn contributes to higher numbers of fatalities, more extensive damage, a weakened ability to rebuild, and more.
The Checklist on Law and Disaster Risk Reduction
In 2012, the IFRC and the UNDP began work on a project to ‘research, compare and consult on the efforts of various countries to strengthen how their laws support the reduction of disaster risks, particularly at the community level.’ (see here). The project had two intended products: (1) a multi-country report examining the disaster risk reduction legislation in thirty-one countries, and (2) a ten point Checklist on Law and Disaster Risk Reduction. The multi-country report was launched in June 2014, and the Checklist in March 2015. The overall aim of the project is to provide States with practical guidance on legislating for disaster risk reduction.
The Checklist aims to help States identify strengths in their laws, areas where greater focus is needed on implementation, and whether drafting or revising might be needed. It does so by asking the following ten questions:
- Do you have a dedicated law for disaster risk management that prioritises risk reduction and is tailored to your country context?
- Do your laws establish clear roles and responsibilities related to risk reduction for all relevant institutions from national to local level?
- Do your key sectoral laws incorporate provisions to increase safety and reduce vulnerability?
- Do your laws ensure that sufficient resources are budgeted for disaster risk reduction?
- Do your laws establish clear procedures and responsibilities for risk assessments and ensure risk information is considered in development processes?
- Do your laws establish clear procedures and responsibilities for early warning?
- Do your laws require education, training and awareness-raising to promote a whole-of-society approach to disaster risk reduction?
- Do your laws ensure the engagement of civil society, the private sector, scientific institutions and communities in risk reduction decisions and activities?
- Do your laws adequately address gender considerations and the special needs of particularly vulnerable categories of persons?
- Do your laws include adequate mechanisms to ensure that responsibilities are fulfilled and rights are protected?
When answering each of these questions, lawmakers are provided with an explanation of why the question is important, a list of other guiding questions, and suggestions of laws and regulations to check, for example: the State’s constitution; civil defence laws; criminal laws; tort laws; and human rights. Importantly, the Checklist also provides guidance on follow-up actions so that lawmakers know what to do next if they find their State’s legislation lacking in a particular area.
The Checklist has now been available to States for around five months. It is clearly in its infancy and only time will tell if it is an effective tool for lawmakers working in this area. That being said, the Checklist is no doubt promising in its current form: it encourages a holistic approach to disaster risk reduction and legislative planning; it uses expert research to show issues and trends affecting numerous countries, hence it promotes reliable case-based approaches to regulation; and it advocates active strategising to ensure risk mitigation occurs earlier in the disaster cycle. Overall, lawmakers should welcome the Checklist and incorporate its approaches – and indeed the project’s wider findings – into their disaster risk reduction legislation.
© Camilla R Barker
Camilla Barker is a doctoral candidate at the Faculty of Law, University of Oxford and is supervised by Catherine Redgwell, Chichele Professor of Public International Law and Fellow at All Souls College. She holds law degrees from Harvard Law School (LL.M., Fulbright Scholar) and the University of London (LL.B. (Hons)). Camilla’s doctoral research involves humanitarian access in natural disasters, and she has been grateful for the opportunities to work on this and related projects as a Scholar-in-Residence at NYU Law in the summer of 2014, and as a member of the Policy Advice and Planning Section at the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in New York in the summer of 2015. Further information and contact details can be found at: http://www.law.ox.ac.uk/people/profile.php?who=camilla.barker