By María Mercedes Martínez and Isabelle Granger
On April 24, 2012, President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia signed Act 1523, establishing the “National System for Disaster Risk Management” and adopting a new national policy on disaster risk management. The new act and policy make a number of advances toward promoting a holistic approach to disaster management in Colombia.
Unlike previous legislation, the newly approved act and policy focus not only on the improvement of disaster response mechanisms, but also on disaster preparedness and risk knowledge. As such, the new Act creates a regime which redefines the roles and responsibilities of government entities in charge of disaster management, as well as those of civil society actors and private entities. “We are very pleased to see the essential role of the Colombian Red Cross enshrined in this new law,” noted Mr Walter Ricardo Cotte Witingan, Executive Director of the Colombian Red Cross Society, “As a participant in the National Council for Risk Management, created by the law, we look forward to applying our expertise in elaborating disaster management policies, the national risk management plan and any emergency responses.”
The new Act also stresses the importance of capacity building and risk reduction, and requires the full coordination and involvement of departmental, district and municipal levels in such tasks. “The Act recognises that local communities must be engaged when disaster risk reduction plans or response mechanisms are being developed by the authorities,” observed Isabelle Granger, Disaster Law Coordinator for the Americas. “Importantly, it also makes resources available for disaster management and creates new territorial funds, administrated by mayors and governors, in order to promote an expedient response to disasters at the local level.”
Finally, the new law contemplates a special regime that will operate in the event of a disaster or public calamity. During that time, special measures relating to contracting procedures, tax controls on resources, relocation of settlements and credits for affected individuals, among others, will be applied in order to assist the affected areas in recovering from the disaster or public calamity.
As for international assistance for disasters in Colombia, the Act requests that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Disaster Risk Management Unit, created under the Act, develop a strategic plan for the coordination of international assistance within a 180-day period from the passing of the Act. The Colombian Red Cross Society is providing its support to the Government of Colombia in developing this new strategic plan.