The law: the key to ensuring an effective disaster response?

It is inevitable that disasters do happen. But new work by our legal partners considers how the law can be used to ensure that the international response is as swift and effective as possible.

It is inevitable that disasters do happen. And whether it is an earthquake, flood or food crisis, it is vital that states and communities can access humanitarian assistance as quickly as possible.

If the disaster is on a large scale or takes place in a country which is also struggling with poverty or instability, very often the disaster response will be international. Tents, medical aid, water purification systems and specialist personnel are flown in to assist in the relief operations.

But to ensure that this aid reaches those that need it, when they need it, there is a need for stronger and more effective laws.

Preparing for disaster

Disaster preparedness and disaster risk reduction programmes help communities vulnerable to disasters to lessen their impact when they do occur. As well as measures such as implementing early warning systems or providing emergency shelters, strong ‘disaster laws’ can also help manage any potential disasters.

The International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies’ (IFRC) International Disaster Response Laws (IDRL) project seeks to reduce human vulnerability by promoting legal preparedness for disasters. 

Model law

As part of this work the IFRC has been preparing a Model Act on Facilitation and Regulation of International Disaster Assistance with support from lawyers at three of A4ID’s legal partners, CMS Cameron McKenna, Allen & Overy and Baker & McKenzie, with Baker & McKenzie collaborating with lawyers at Microsoft Corporation.

The pilot of this new model act was made available to delegates at the 31st International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent in November 2011. At the conference the resolution on ‘Strengthening normative frameworks and addressing regulatory barriers concerning disaster mitigation, response and recovery’ was adopted. This invites further consultation with States and other stakeholders on the use of the Model Act as a reference tool.

In 2007 the IFRC adopted a new set of Guidelines on the facilitation and regulation of international disaster relief and initial recovery assistance. The Model Act that the A4ID lawyers have been working to prepare by carrying out legal research and drafting, aims to assist states to implement these Guidelines by integrating their recommendations in national law.

Swift response

Because legal systems and disaster response systems vary from country to country the Model Act serves as an example to law-makers in order to develop appropriate national legislation. The aim is that it can be used as a stand alone act or provide guidance on how existing laws can be amended.

The Model Act is intended improve the delivery of lifesaving aid by addressing issues such as the delay in getting humanitarian personnel and relief items to disaster areas, the imposition of taxes and duties on relief supplies, and difficulties in granting legal recognition to foreign organisations which prevents them from opening bank accounts or hiring local staff.

It is also intended to coordinate the import of relief items to ensure that communities have access to what they need as well as to ensure that staff assisting in the operations are properly trained and working in a culturally sensitive manner.

This new Model Act may not stop disasters from happening but hopefully it will provide states with the legal instruments they need to prepare for and more effectively cope with any future crises.