Cambodia’s path to a new and improved legal framework for international disaster assistance

Published: 30 April 2012 0:50 CET

By Aishah Amin, Lucia Cipullo and Tessa Kelly

Cambodia’s new draft law on disaster management, if passed in its current form later this year, is set to be one of the most comprehensive disaster management laws in the Asia Pacific region for addressing the facilitation of international assistance. The IFRC’s Disaster Law programme spoke with Mr. Ross Sovann, the Deputy Secretary General of the National Committee for Disaster Management (NCDM) and Head of the Country’s Emergency Coordination Centre, about the implications of the new law for disaster management and the role of the IDRL Guidelines in its development. 

Mr. Sovann was very positive about the new disaster management law, saying that it signals Cambodia’s new emphasis on disaster management as a key national priority.  The draft new law provides stronger mechanisms for disaster management and enables the National Committee for Disaster Management to improve and strengthen its existing line of authority from the national level down to the provincial and district levels.  “Hopefully, once the law is enacted, it will also fill the gaps for financial needs, human resources and capacity building.  Solutions to a lot of the challenges we face now will hopefully be addressed in the law”, he stated. 

In Cambodia, disaster management activities have previously been organized in accordance with the Royal Decree on the Establishment of the National Committee for Disaster Management (2002). In general, disaster management activities have usually only involved government and ministerial agencies, and excluded other public and private sectors.  Mr Sovann noted that ‘the new disaster management law, however, is applicable beyond the government sphere and will open windows for more involvement from disaster relief societies, NGOs, and the private sector”.

Important elements of international cooperation and assistance are addressed in chapter five of the draft law.  “We value international cooperation in disaster management because Cambodia is a developing country and resources are very limited.  The development of the new law promises enhancement for the arrangement of international assistance”, Mr. Sovann stated.  “In Cambodia, we would like to plan for big emergencies, and this often requires international assistance.   Therefore we must develop mechanisms to coordinate international responders including the provision of visas, importation of goods, tools and equipment, tax exemptions as well as safety regulations.” 

In 2008, the IFRC supported the Government of Cambodia and the Cambodia Red Cross Society in undertaking a technical assistance project which analysed the country’s national legal framework for international assistance and communicable disease emergencies, and has also provided input on the draft disaster management law.  Mr. Sovann remembered how the IFRC’s 2008 study provided new insights into the importance of international disaster response.  “I now believe that no country is able to respond to major disaster without collaboration and partnership.  For me, every stakeholder needs to understand their responsibilities and assume their roles even before requesting assistance.  This will enable them to deliver aid in the most timely and efficient manner.” He also outlined that “to be prepared, I believe we need to begin with laws and policies. I find the IDRL Guidelines a very important tool to support countries in developing their frameworks for emergency preparedness and response”.  

Mr. Sovann also highlighted the importance of engaging all stakeholders in the process of developing the new law. “Many of these issues are crosscutting and multidisciplinary in nature. There is a great need to involve all stakeholders.”  Cambodia is also a signatory to the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) Agreement on Disaster Management and Emergency Response, and through this has made a commitment to develop laws and regulations in line with this agreement.  Mr. Sovann hopes that Cambodia’s new legislation will be recognised by ASEAN and become a key example for other countries in the region.

It is anticipated that the disaster management law will be finalized and enacted later this year.  The Cambodian government is due to convene a meeting to finalise the draft law in late April, after which the final draft will be presented to the Prime Minister (as Chair of the NCDM).  The Prime Minister is then responsible for putting forward the draft law to the Cambodian Council of Jury and the Socio-Economic Council for review. The Council of Ministers’ full meeting will then endorse the final draft and formally submit it to the National Assembly to be passed accordingly.



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