Disasters cause enormous human suffering and loss, but the right laws and policies can help keep communities safe and save lives.
Laws and policies underpin all aspects of disaster risk management. They form the often-invisible foundation of disaster risk management, protecting and preparing communities all around the world. Despite significant improvements in recent decades, many countries still need to strengthen their disaster laws to effectively manage the risks and impacts of disasters.
Legal gaps in disaster risk reduction can reduce the resilience of communities to disasters. Without a strong legal framework for disaster preparedness and response, critical preparedness activities may be missed and authorities can be overwhelmed during response operations. The result is more severe disaster impacts and delays to lifesaving assistance for the people who need it most.
As we face climate change, a pandemic and increasingly frequent and intense disasters, the need for effective disaster laws is ever-increasing. The importance of domestic disaster laws, policies and plans is supported by three key international instruments: the Sendai Framework; the Sustainable Development Goals; and the Paris Agreement.
Priority 2 of the Sendai Framework is to strengthen disaster risk governance. In line with this priority, the Sendai Framework calls for the strengthening of national laws, policies, procedures and regulations.
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) or Global Goals are a collection of 17 interlinked global goals designed to be a ‘blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all’. The SDGs were set in 2015 by the United Nations General Assembly and are intended to be achieved by the year 2030.
Disaster law has an important role to play in achieving SDGs 1 and 13, which are to ‘end poverty in all its forms everywhere’ and to ‘take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts’.
SDG 1.5 calls for states to build the resilience of the poor and those in vulnerable situations and to reduce their exposure and vulnerability to climate-related extreme events and other economic, social and environmental shocks and disasters. SDGs 13.1 and 13.2 call for strengthening resilience and adaptive capacity to climate-related hazards and natural disaster, and integrating climate change measures into national policies, strategies and planning.
In practice, achieving SDGs 1 and 13 requires strong disaster laws, policies and plans, which have a focus on protecting and including vulnerable groups and at-risk communities.
The Paris Agreement is a legally binding international treaty on climate change. The goal of the Paris Agreement is to address the climate crisis by limiting global warming to well below 2, preferably to 1.5, degrees celsius compared to pre-industrial levels. It was adopted by 196 states in Paris on 12 December 2015 and entered into force on 4 November 2016.
The Paris Agreement also addresses climate change adaptation, requiring states parties to ‘engage in adaptation planning processes’. Developing disaster laws, policies and plans that are climate-smart and address evolving meteorological risks — what we at IFRC Disaster Law do every day — is an important aspect of climate adaptation planning.