International disaster response law makes headway in Myanmar

Published: 8 October 2014 15:15 CET

By Lucia Cipullo and Kevin Wirasamban

A severe cyclone hits the lower regions of Myanmar, affecting over 2 million people across highly populated areas, including the Yangon and lower Rakhine regions. Despite early warning actions, the impact and needs are immense.

Myanmar is in the throes of an emergency and the government requests international assistance. But how quickly can international assistance be mobilized? What barriers might prevent the swift delivery of aid?

These issues were played out during the last week of September, where over 50 representatives from the government and humanitarian sector gathered together against the idyllic backdrop of Inle Lake, in order to test systems for disaster preparedness and response in Myanmar.

Replicating a disaster  

Like many of the simulation exercises that have taken place across the region, this initiative sought to clarify roles and responsibilities of all key actors involved, and addresses how the international humanitarian community is integrated into national disaster response. It also included a strong focus on international disaster response law (IDRL) issues.

In July 2013, a new law on disaster management was adopted in Myanmar, followed by the ongoing development of a set of implementing disaster management rules. Legal issues in international disaster response are being given increasing visibility in Myanmar, largely due to the advocacy work of the Myanmar Red Cross and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. In May 2014 for example, the Red Cross hosted a high-level advocacy workshop on international disaster law in Nay Pyi Daw.

The recent disaster preparedness and response exercise at Inle Lake provided participants with a critical opportunity to test the new law. IFRC Regional Disaster Law Delegate, Lucia Cipullo, delivered insight on the legal issues that can arise in international disaster response operations and IDRL. As a disaster law expert, Cipullo highlighted the ways in which legal barriers can arise with the facilitation and regulation of international assistance – issues which were tested throughout the exercise. Participants had the opportunity to review copies of the new DM law in Myanmar, in order to identify the relevant procedures for expedited visa processes, customs clearance, and provisions on how to recognize foreign medical qualifications.

Right aid at the right time

Hosted by the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement, the simulation was run in collaboration with the ASEAN Centre for Humanitarian Assistance, Myanmar Red Cross, and various UN agencies including OCHA, WFP and UNDP. It has not only helped reinforce the valuable role of the Myanmar Red Cross during disasters, but it also emphasized the importance of international disaster response law with government, regional and humanitarian actors.

The region has seen great changes in disaster management, especially in countries like Myanmar.  With the adoption of the new disaster management law, and the inclusion of a chapter on international assistance in the draft disaster management rules (based on the IDRL Guidelines), Myanmar is well on its way to being legally prepared to respond swiftly and effectively to large-scale disasters, and ensuring that vulnerable communities receive the right aid, at the right time.