Disasters can cause enormous human suffering and loss. But the right laws and policies can help keep communities safe and save lives.
Disasters can cause enormous human suffering and loss. But the right laws and policies can help keep communities safe and save lives.
Geneva, 30 March 2021 In response to a common call for an International Treaty on Pandemics by the WHO and world leaders today, Jagan Chapagain, Secretary General of the International Federation of Red Cross Red Crescent Societies, said: “We are encouraged by this commitment from the WHO and world leaders today to develop a new treaty on pandemic prevention and response. The COVID-19 response has been hugely impaired by gaps in global cooperation and inequities affecting some of the most vulnerable of our societies. This treaty is an opportunity to address these for the next time. “We need bold new solutions – both in international and domestic laws – to avoid the same mistakes. These must include a firm commitment to preparedness at all levels of society, including at the community level, and equitable access to testing, vaccines and treatment for all at greatest risk. We must also ensure that health and emergency staff and volunteers are supported to operate safely to provide life-saving aid, and access communities in need. And we must guard against the economic ruin of the poorest and most vulnerable as a result of pandemic responses. “With our experience in supporting states to develop and implement disaster law and policy around the world, IFRC and its members stand ready to provide their expertise and advice to governments and to support such a treaty to not only be powerful on paper but transformative in reality.”
Disaster risk management (DRM) and governance in Nepal is in good hands – the hands of the communities and their local authorities who are most affected by disasters and climate change. In partnership with the Government of Nepal, Nepal Red Cross has developed the Nepal Municipal Risk Governance Assessment Tool, an easy-to-use checklist and self-assessment framework to support more risk-informed municipal regulations, policies and systems. The shift in power from central to local governance set by Nepal’s 2015 Constitution, and the resulting DRM act of 2017, gave full responsibility for disaster risk management policy and planning to the753 newly formed municipalities. Communities and local authorities welcomed the opportunity to have greater decision-making, but many felt overwhelmed by complex portfolios, including how to ensure a functioning governance system. As experts in community risk reduction and disaster management, Nepal Red Cross worked with communities and decision-makers to develop the governance tool, finding ways to systemise and coordinate the decentralisation and mainstreaming of climate-smart DRR at the community level. Community leaders will use the tool to assess their existing risk governance frameworks, identify gaps and weaknesses, and pinpoint where further investment is needed, including opportunities for mainstreaming DRR and DRM across different sectors, including development and financial planning. The assessment tool will be piloted in late 2020, before nationwide roll-out. Nepal Red Cross is a leader disaster law and policy, it has a long history working with the Government and development partners on international disaster response law, policy and governance, including the adoption of the 2017 DRRM law. Nepal Municipal Risk Governance Assessment Tool was supported through theZurichFlood Resilience Coalition.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) Disaster Law Programme has worked in the Pacific since 2010, starting with the review of Vanuatu’s legal and policy framework for disasters in partnership with the Government of Vanuatu and Vanuatu Red Cross. When Tropical Cyclone Pam tore through Vanuatu in 2014, shortly after the review was finalised, Vanuatu issued its first-ever request for international assistance, to which the response was beyond expectation, and the country was flooded with uncoordinated aid and assistance. Described as a ‘wakeup call’ by the Government of Vanuatu for international disaster law legal reform, it was a catalyst for Vanuatu and the rest of the Pacific. An IFRC disaster law advisor was quickly deployed to support the government with regulatory barriers arising from the response, and in the weeks, months and years that followed, the journey to review, reform and operationalise laws and policy relating to disaster management began in Vanuatu. Since then, IFRC’s Disaster Law Programme has reached across the Pacific Ocean to work in fifteen Pacific countries. Today, we near the completion of the review of Fiji’s National Disaster Management Act in partnership with the Government of Fiji and Fiji Red Cross. This is a significant piece of work that will support the national disaster risk management system to be proactive and focused on disaster risk reduction, a shift from a traditional reactive, response-based model. The review includes theadoption of a cluster system, establishment of subnational administration, regulation of international aid, the strengthened role of a disaster service liaison officer and legal facilities for recognised NGOs and humanitarian organisation. Consultations for the review have been with diverse groups from across Fiji, ensuring that no one is left behind in legislation and in the decision-making process. IFRC’s Disaster Law Programme in the Pacific brings technical experience and expertise, but equally important is the unique way in which we work – long term programming, support that is localised and contextualised and coordination that brings everyone together. For countries like Vanuatu, where significant disaster law reform has been carried out, humanitarian responses are coordinated, effective, and locally-led, with aid getting to those that need it most – a must for the number one ranked disaster risk country in the world. As the only international organisation mandated to provide disaster law technical advice, there is an increasing demand for our support and a widened scope that includes protection and inclusion, displacement, climate change, holistic support to governments on risk governance, and now, COVID-19. Pacific communities are at the frontline of disasters and climate change, and with the arrival of COVID-19 to their shores, supporting governments to have effective disaster laws and well-functioning disaster risk management systems in place which can respond to a multitude of hazards, is crucial for a humanitarian structure that can save lives. 15 Pacific countries working with the Disaster Law Programme 15 disaster law research projects 14 countries with disaster law Influenced or in the process of influencing 10 Pacific governments currently engaging in disaster law processes
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) Disaster Law Programme works across the diverse and vast region that is Asia, from Afghanistan to Japan, Mongolia to Timor Leste, providing disaster law technical support, capacity building, peer learning and research in 21 countries for more than 15 years. In Asia, the Disaster Law Programme focuses on countries with particularly high disaster risk and those who are actively developing or reviewing their disaster risk management legalisation. We have worked across Southeast Asia - Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar and the Philippines. We have worked extensively in Nepal following the 2015 earthquake, Mongolia, and recently in China, where a research report, International Disaster Response Law in China, has been under consideration by the Ministry of Emergency Management. Given the differences and diversity of the region, the Disaster Law Programme’s approach in Asia is not ‘one size fits all’. This tailored approach applies to who the programme works with, adapting to work in partnership with governments, national disaster management offices, Red Cross Red Crescent Societies and with regional bodies like ASEAN. The tailored approach also reflects the growing scope of the Disaster Law Programme and the needs of the countries– from response-based to underpinning all aspects of disaster risk management – risk reduction, preparedness for response and recovery, integration into resilience and also working to ensure community engagement in the disaster law process. In Mongolia, IFRC and Mongolia Red Cross have worked with the Government to revise disaster protection law through a contemporary approach to disaster management, moving the country from a reactive response paradigm to one which is proactive and works to prevent and reduce the risk of disasters on people, livestock and the environment. Mongolia is now putting concerted efforts into ensuring these new frameworks are implemented and well understood, particularly at the community level through a national awareness campaign with support from Red Cross. A common and important theme to our approach and outcome of the work in Asia is a shift to a more localised way of working, with disaster law processes and systems grounded in strong and nationally owned governance frameworks, and regional mechanisms. With countries like the Philippines, Indonesia and Japan who have immense experience responding to frequent and intense disasters and emergencies, huge knowledge and expertise already exist in within the region. Effecting law and policy change requires a long-term investment and partnership. Having worked in the region for more than 15 years, we are now working with countries who are already in a position to review disaster management laws for a second time, following the learnings over time from large scale disasters and wanting to ensure that their governance frameworks are more responsive to current and emerging challenges like displacement, climate change and health hazards. Fifteen years on from our early work in Asia after the huge tsunami to hit the region in 2004, we are again working regionally as we respond to the COVID-19 pandemic alongside National Societies, governments and communities to ensure all emergency preparedness and response efforts - whether it be for natural hazards, climate induced, or public health emergencies is underpinned by clear laws and regulations.
The Pacific region has weathered many storms and bears the brunt of the harsh reality of climate change. Despite this, Pacific people remain resilient and face new and emerging challenges with a sense of solidarity and ingenuity. So, when COVID-19 started knocking on the region’s door, the Pacific community knew they had to mobilise quickly and collectively to minimise and contain the threat caused by the virus. Like in other parts of the world, borders were closed, commercial travel all but ceased, and tourism dried up. As a collection of small island states dotted across a vast ocean, many highly dependent on imported food and with weak local health systems, the region was acutely aware that simply shutting its borders to the outside world was not going to be an option. In mid-April, Pacific Islands Forum Foreign Ministers agreed to establish the “Pacific Humanitarian Pathway on COVID-19 “(PHP-C)’. The pathway is a high-level, political mechanism to ensure regional coordination and will be available to member countries on request. It will expedite assistance and cooperation between Pacific countries in preparing for and responding to COVID-19. This includes facilitating the provision of timely and safe medical and humanitarian assistance from regional and international development partners, across the region. It may also be used for response to other emergencies that may arise during COVID-19. Although this arrangement was urgently developed due to COVID-19, initiatives in support of a Pacific mechanism for regional disaster and humanitarian response is not new. In fact, National Red Cross Societies and the International Federation of Red Cross Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) have been advocating for a formalised regional approach and supporting efforts towards this goal for the past five years. Through its recognised disaster law expertise, Red Cross has supported governments in the revision of disaster laws and policies in over half of all Pacific countries. This has included strengthening provisions for the coordination and facilitation of international humanitarian assistance in accordance with the international disaster response law (IDRL) guidelines. Earlier this year, the Pacific IDRL Online Platform was established, providing easily accessible information on the domestic rules and provisions for fast tracking international humanitarian aid across the 16 English-speaking Pacific Island countries. In addition, Red Cross also supported the development of draft Pacific guidelines for the coordination of regional and international assistance in 2015. These efforts have not gone unnoticed by Pacific governments and regional partners and can inform the governance arrangements in the roll-out of the Pacific humanitarian pathway. More importantly, Pacific Red Cross Societies are working around the clock in partnership with their governments to prevent transmission of the virus, help communities already affected by the outbreak to maintain access to basic social services, and reduce the economic, social and psychological impact on people. As witnessed recently when Cyclone Harold tore a destructive and deadly path through the region impacting multiple Pacific countries, climate-induced hazards will not wait for the pandemic to pass. Dame Meg Taylor, Head of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, has recognised the interconnectivity between the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change and made a rallying call to the global community to not become complacent about climate change as their attention shifts to the pandemic response. She points out that: “the COVID-19 public health emergency and its ensuing humanitarian and economic fallout offers us a glimpse of what the global climate change emergency can become - if it’s left unchecked and if we do not act now.” No country can tackle these complex issues alone. Regional and global solidarity is a must. However, solidarity alone is not enough – it needs to be backed by political will, strong leadership and clear rules of the road. The Pacific Humanitarian Pathway is a great example of this and provides an innovative regional model for countries to provide humanitarian support to each other in these unprecedented times. Red Cross is proud to play its part in such efforts and ensure that communities across the Pacific continue to remain resilient in the face of crisis.
The Bayanihan to Heal as One Act has been signed into law last March 23, 2020 to ramp up efforts to fight COVID-19, including social safety nets and PhilHealth medical assistance to health workers and volunteers who risk their own lives in order to save the lives of others. Government will provide emergency subsidy to around 18 million low income households, to ensure that families have access to food and other basic needs in light of the heavy economic cost of the pandemic. “Finally! The Senate has adopted our amendments. Kung kinaya ng ibang bansa na lampasan ang pandemic na ito, kaya rin natin. To the Filipino people – yes, we can and yes, we will. Fight we must, win we must!”, said PRC Chairman and Senator Richard Gordon via Facebook, referring to his crucial amendments to the law, paving way for the P100,000 safety net for each healthcare worker infected by COVID-19, and a P1 million allocation each for bereaved families of healthcare workers who pass away in the line of duty. To better address COVID-19, the legislation identifies Philippine Red Cross as a key partner of the government in the distribution of goods and services to prevent and respond to the effects of the pandemic. As “auxiliary” to the public authorities in the humanitarian field, the Philippine Red Cross, supported by its worldwide Red Cross Red Crescent Movement partners, is mandated by the Philippine Red Cross Act (RA 10072) and international law to provide life-saving humanitarian aid, alleviating the suffering of people wherever they may be found. The Bayanihan to Heal as One Act emphasizes and strengthens this auxiliary role of the prime humanitarian volunteer organization in the country, to support and supplement government efforts in these challenging and volatile times. Even prior to the passage of the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, Philippine Red Cross staff and volunteers had been mobilizing resources and providing relief assistance and pandemic prevention kits to communities, through Red Cross Chapters in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. 1,137 liters of disinfectant solution had been donated to the Bulacan Red Cross Chapter, which it will then distribute to hospitals, barangay tanods, and other community frontliners. The Davao de Oro Red Cross Chapter provided tents to serve as 14-day quarantine facilities for some passengers traveling from other parts of the Philippines, with Compostela Red Cross Chapter providing beds and water, ensuring respect for human dignity in humanitarian aid. Philippine Red Cross Headquarters had also set up a 24/7-hour Red Cross hotline (1158) to address questions regarding COVID-19 symptoms and precautions, with volunteer doctors advising whether hospitalization may be required. Volunteer social workers also provide mental and psychosocial support to callers as part of Philippine Red Cross’ support to mental health. This helps decongest overwhelmed medical facilities by providing a first layer screening. There have been 128 calls received, the highest volume on March 24 after the new law was passed. There are currently 53 call center volunteers, and Philippine Red Cross welcomes more volunteers to serve the increasing volume of callers each day.