Helping draft laws that serve the needs of those affected by disaster

Published: 3 May 2013 20:42 CET

At its origin, the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement was established to reduce the horrors of war, both by directly caring for those affected and by supporting the development and implementation of international humanitarian law (IHL). As early as the 2nd International Conference of the Red Cross in 1869, however, National Societies pledged to extend their help to people affected by other kinds of emergencies, particularly natural disasters.

Today, the Movement is engaged in aiding people affected by the world’s armed conflicts – but National Societies also respond to hundreds of natural disasters every year, in every country of the world.  

Yet, while IHL has grown swiftly and prominently, international rules for responding to natural disasters have developed very slowly, with less coherence and visibility. The Red Cross Red Crescent Societies were engaged in many of their milestones – such as the development of the International Relief Union in 1927, the collection of ‘Measures to Expedite Emergency Relief’ in 1977, the establishment of the ‘Code of Conduct for the Red Cross and Red Crescent and Non-Governmental Organizations in Disaster Relief’ in 1994, and the adoption of the Tampere Convention on the Provision of Telecommunication Resources for Disaster Mitigation and Relief Operations in 1998.

However, it was not until 2001 that the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) developed its first formal programme dedicated to disaster law.

Originally called the International Response Laws, Rules and Principles (IDRL) Programme, this initiative began with a focus on the increasingly complex regulatory issues affecting international disaster relief operations. Through years of research and consultations, it found that many relief operations are burdened with delays, costs and restrictions, on the one hand, and problems with the coordination, quality and compatibility of international efforts with those of domestic actors, on the other.

In response to these findings, at the 30th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent in 2007, the state parties to the Geneva Conventions adopted the ‘IDRL Guidelines’ to help states strengthen their domestic regulations and procedures for international relief.  Since then, the IFRC and National Societies have offered technical assistance to over 25 governments and a dozen countries have adopted laws or procedures drawing on aspects of the guidelines. Moreover, global and regional organizations have begun to incorporate the guidelines into their own work.

In 2011, the 31st International Conference called on the IFRC and National Societies to continue their work with IDRL, but also to expand their support to legal issues in disaster management beyond those of international operations. Through its renamed ‘Disaster Law Programme’ the IFRC is now working with National Societies and other partners to build knowledge on how best to use legal tools to reduce risks, respond effectively and recover swiftly from disasters.