The Asia-Pacific Region and Cyclic Approaches to Disaster Legislation
by Camilla Barker, LLB (Hons), LLM, FRSA, AFHEA. www.law.ox.ac.uk/camilla-barker
Whenever we think about a State that is affected by a natural disaster, we tend to think about what happens during and immediately after that disaster. More and more often, we are also thinking about what happens before these disasters strike and about how we can better prepare ourselves for their onset. What we do not think about as much, however, is what happens when that disaster and its effects have gone away. What happens when the debris is cleared, homes and services are rebuilt, and life returns to normal? Is that the end of the story?
For legislators, it certainly isn’t. When a disaster strikes, it is true that most of the legislative attention is focused on dealing with that disaster and its immediate aftermath (usually in relation to emergency powers), but that is not to say that the long term is not already being considered. The reason for this is the increasing tendency of legislators to think of disaster-related legislation as pertaining to different stages of the disaster cycle.
The Disaster Cycle
Daniel A. Farber, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, suggests that there are five stages in the disaster cycle: risk mitigation – disaster event – emergency response – compensation and insurance – rebuilding. Each stage of the cycle is prompted by the one before it, and each stage somehow feeds into the one after it.
It is no surprise, then, that States that have experienced a major natural disaster are keen to enact new laws that not only deal with the challenges presently faced, but also the challenges to be faced in the future. In this article, we take a look at three countries in the Asia-Pacific region and the laws that they have put in place in recent years to encompass these different disaster cycle stages.
Nepal has new disaster legislation pending, but the government has been working to strengthen its disaster preparedness and disaster response for a number of years. 2009 saw the creation of the Nepal Risk Reduction Consortium, an initiative that brings together groups from the humanitarian, development, financial and governmental sectors to identify risk priorities and reduce Nepal’s vulnerability to natural disasters. One year later in 2010, the National Emergency Operations Centre was established. The recent earthquakes have no doubt tested these frameworks, but it remains to be seen how successful they have been. What is clear now is that legislators will be incorporating the experience of the earthquakes and the apparent cyclical nature of disaster response into Nepal’s pending Disaster Management Act.
July 2015 witnessed the signing of a new national disaster management law in Cambodia, a move that demonstrates the country’s commitment to strengthening the regulation of disasters as the current Chair of the ASEAN Committee on Disaster Management. As well as prevention and mitigation provisions – that not only make calls for the incorporation of disaster risk reduction measures in development planning, but also provide for action on climate change – the new law contains significant provisions on assistance and cooperation. These achievements can be seen as part of a momentum in Southeast Asia in which countries are underscoring the need for action on mitigation as well as response to disasters, reflecting that very same cyclical understanding of disaster management.
Early in 2015, some innovative steps were taken by Timor Leste to ascertain the extent to which the country’s disaster laws needed strengthening. A large-scale disaster simulation exercise was conducted, involving around 150 participants, including major organisations such as the United Nations and the Red Cross Red Crescent movement. The exercise revealed weaknesses and gaps in the system, and prompted the government in Timor Leste to focus on areas such as civil-military coordination, technical development, community resilience, and management planning more broadly. This approach will ensure that a holistic view is taken in respect of the development of the country’s new legal and policy frameworks for disaster management.
The Asia-Pacific region as a community of States has certainly taken a lead in the development of disaster management laws. What these three countries demonstrate is that the focus of legislators working on disaster-related issues is not solely the immediate response to a disaster (what we tend to think about the most), but also the prevention thereof and long term reaction thereto. As the frequency and intensity of disasters continues to rise, this cyclical or holistic view of disaster management is sure to take hold as the prevailing approach in new legislative initiatives.
© 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/camilla.barker