The toll of disasters continues to rise worldwide, causing massive human suffering each year. When major disasters strike, international assistance can mean the difference between hardship and recovery for affected communities. But aid unfortunately does not always reach those in need as effectively as it should.
Global experience has shown that managing international assistance operations is becoming increasingly complex, in part because the number and variety of international responders are both increasing. Problems obtaining entry visas, customs clearance and duties, tax exemptions, transport permissions and registrations of various kinds have become a frequent and unnecessary drag on relief operations. At the same time, a lack of quality control has often meant substandard assistance, poor coordination and duplication of efforts.
Governments need to think the unthinkable. Someday, their country may need international assistance to respond to a catastrophic disasters. If and when that happens, the absence of a specific domestic regulatory framework can make it very difficult for an affected state to oversee, regulate and facilitate the entry of relief. Ad-hoc approaches, hastily devised in the wake of a catastrophic disaster, have often led to a certain loss of state control and the arrival of inappropriate or poor quality relief. Nevertheless, few states have comprehensive legal frameworks in place.
Since 2001, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent (IFRC) have been working with states to promote more effective rules and procedures for the management of international disaster assistance, based on exhaustive research pointing out how regulatory problems are impending the right aid from reaching people in need.
In 2007, the state parties to the Geneva Conventions and the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement adopted the “Guidelines for the domestic facilitation and regulation of international disaster relief and initial recovery assistance” (IDRL Guidelines), as voluntary guidance for the development national laws and rules. In adopting the Guidelines, States were encouraged to make use of them to strengthen their legal, policy and institutional frameworks as well as when developing, if appropriate, bilateral and regional disaster-assistance agreements.
Law and disaster risk reduction
In 2014, the IFRC and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) published the results of the largest comparative study of legislation for disaster risk reduction undertaken to date. The study, entitled Effective law and regulation for disaster risk reduction, analysed the laws of 31 countries in various parts of the world to explore which elements were most successful, where they were gaps, and how implementation of key rules has fared in a number of contexts.
Drawing on the findings of the study, in 2015, a “Checklist on law and disaster risk reduction” was completed. The checklist is designed to serve as an assessment tool to guide a review process of national and local level laws and regulations that can enhance DRR and provide guidance on how to bring national legal frameworks in line with existing international standards, in particular, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction. It also aims to foster a more integrated approach to DRR by taking into account climate change and sustainable development considerations within the review of legislation.
What we do
For the last decade, Irish Red Cross has been involved in disaster law activities in Ireland. While it may always be hoped that international disaster relief will never be required in Ireland, or in any other country for that matter, it is essential to be prepared.
In 2013, Irish Red Cross examined the extent to which Ireland’s existing legal and policy framework would facilitate international disaster relief and also provided recommendations on how Ireland can strengthen its legal preparedness in accordance with international guidelines.
More recently, together with the Centre of Criminal Justice and Human Rights in the School of Law, University College of Cork, we have undertaken a series of information and awareness raising events to advance understanding of international disaster law. More information about this project is available at http://disaster-law.ucc.ie
Information Sheets on Disasters and Law
These information sheets provide a brief overview of the application of law in disaster contexts:
International Disaster Law
Disaster Risk Reduction
Human Rights in Disasters