IDRL - International Disaster Response Laws, Rules and Principles - Asia-Pacific Forum

Published: 12 December 2006

It is a great pleasure for me to welcome you today on behalf of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies to the Asia-Pacific Forum on International Disaster Response Laws, Rules and Principles (or IDRL).

I would like to start by thanking our host, the Government of Malaysia for its commitment, interest and valuable support in making this event possible.

I equally want to express my gratitude to the Malaysian Red Crescent Society for its tireless efforts in the preparation and organization of this Forum.

In the last two and a half decades, the world community has witnessed a sharp increase in both the number of non-armed conflict disasters and in their impact. In the ten years between 1980 and 1990, 2073 disasters affected 1.3 billion people causing estimated damages of over 186 billion USD.

In just the first six years of the new millennium, these figures have already risen to 3520 disasters, affecting 1.7 billion people with damages exceeding 450 billion USD.

Disasters hit everywhere, affecting both developing and developed countries. The tsunami showed that they can have an enormous impact and cause the loss of countless lives, pain and suffering and the displacement of thousands of families.

In addition, disasters pose an imminent threat to sustainable development, pushing vulnerable populations below the poverty line and exacerbating difficulties faced by those already living in poverty.

It is very well-known that the majority of natural disasters are successfully addressed domestically by national authorities and usually with the support of the National Red Cross or Red Crescent Society, civil society and other partners.

For every emergency which results in an international appeal, there are ten others for which no outside assistance is necessary.

However, there are situations when a disaster is simply too overwhelming for national coping capacities, and where a request for international assistance becomes necessary. In these cases, adequate legal preparedness is an essential tool in guaranteeing the speed and effectiveness of both the domestic and international disaster response.

As the oldest and largest humanitarian network, which counts 185 Red Cross and Red Crescent Member Societies today, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has always been committed to ensuring that those affected by disasters, particularly the most vulnerable, receive the necessary relief in a timely, effective and well-coordinated manner.

However, before aid even reaches disaster-affected victims, providers of humanitarian relief often face a myriad of legal questions.

Through its research and activities, the International Disaster Response Laws, Rules and Principles Programme has found that existing international laws, rules and principles are insufficiently known and applied, while National disaster management legislation rarely comprehensively addresses the issue of how international aid will be initiated, facilitated, coordinated and regulated.

In the absence of adequate national legal preparedness, either ordinary legislation not adapted to the needs and urgency of a disaster situation continues to be applied, alternatively or in parallel, little known ad hoc measures are taken to correct the inadequacies of ordinary legislation, or again a country's doors are literally thrown open to all international actors.

In all of these scenarios, IDRL challenges will arise which are likely to decrease efficiency, cause delays in the delivery of international assistance and add subsidiary costs, and by doing so affect the ability of aid workers to provide life saving assistance during emergencies.

Cases in point are: international actors confronted by bureaucratic procedures, difficulties in the importation of relief goods and equipment, delayed or refused entry of relief personnel, difficulties in obtaining recognition of professional qualifications or work permits, inability to acquire a national legal personality, problems in the use of vehicles, aircraft and shipping, and prospective taxation, fees or tolls affecting available resources for humanitarian aid.

Affected Governments also face their own list of IDRL problems: receipt of inappropriate aid, entry of untrained or incompetent international relief workers, disrespect for cultural traditions and submergence of local capacities.

Taking into account all of these challenges and based on the International Federation's historical activities and own constitutional role as a coordinator of disaster response, the International Disaster Response Laws, Rules and Principles (IDRL) Programme was initiated in 2001.

The objectives of the IDRL Programme are: to promote access to legal information, awareness and implementation of existing legal instruments; to identify weaknesses and gaps in existing normative frameworks at the international, regional and national levels through substantive research; and to find solutions through the promotion of dialogue with various stakeholders.

In 2003, the 28th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent encouraged states to review existing disaster management laws.

It also officially mandated the International Federation and all National Societies to lead collaborative efforts, involving Governments, international organizations and non-government actors, in research and advocacy on IDRL and asked to report back to the 2007 International Conference.

Since 2003, the IDRL Programme has developed a publicly available IDRL searchable database; organised workshops, surveyed the various stakeholders and conducted 15 case studies covering 40 countries or disaster situations.

Case studies have helped us to identify the current degree of application of IDRL in international disaster response operations, to highlight IDRL best practices in national laws and policies, and to reveal gaps which have not been addressed sufficiently by laws, rules and principles.

In July 2005, we opened an Asia-Pacific office, based in Bangkok to explore the IDRL challenges and best practices in the Asia-Pacific region, and its coordinator Victoria Bannon will be presenting to us the main findings of its recent operational case studies.

The Asia-Pacific Project has also worked closely with Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, such as those of the Philippines and Indonesia, in giving feedback on legislative review to their respective parliaments and has conducted training workshops in the region.

Over the coming year, the IDRL Programme will complete a comprehensive thematic study on IDRL and submit a set of recommendations, including a declaration of principles on the domestic facilitation and regulation of international relief and recovery assistance, to the 30th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent which is to take place in November 2007.

It is in this important context of preparing the 30th International Conference that IDRL regional consultations are organised and the Asia-Pacific Forum is the second in a series of four, after the European Forum on IDRL held last May in Turkey.

Our objectives today are hence to first, critically analyse the current international, regional and national regulatory frameworks for international disaster response, secondly, to review common legal issues and best practices encountered in international response in the region, and third to consolidate the integration of an Asian-Pacific perspective into the IDRL work in the run up to the International Conference.

I therefore thank you for your presence and look forward to your active participation during these next two important days.