Meet the team: Padmini Nayagam

Image of woman looking slightly to the right of the camera.
Padmini Nayagam is our Disaster Law Adviser, Southeast Asia. Padmini is an integral part of the team, and has been working with IFRC in the Asia Pacific region to strengthen and develop disaster laws, polices and frameworks since 2015.

Tell us a bit about yourself? 

I first joined the IFRC in January 2015 as the Disaster Law Officer. The role was a perfect fit for me right from the start. After being a legal editor for a few years, it was a refreshing change to be part of this new and exciting field. Never in all these years has there ever been a dull moment. The role does not just involve law but also diplomacy and this inspired me to pursue my postgraduate studies in it. Needless to say, I love the team as much as I love the work and therefore stayed with the team all these years. Seven years, a husband and two kids later I still love working with the Disaster Law team as much as I did when I first started.

Why is disaster law important?

Disaster law is crucial, especially given the current climate crisis. Climate-smart laws, policies and institutional arrangements play a crucial role in reducing existing risks posed by natural hazards, preventing new risks from arising and making people safer. In every response operation or preparedness activity, regardless of the size, a number of laws, policies and plans determine the roles and responsibilities of every actor involved. This is disaster law. Our work does not just stop at providing technical advice to governments to support the development of new laws and policies but also extends to building local capacity, advocacy and research as well as organising peer learning opportunities on disaster law.

What is something about disaster law that you think people don’t know?   

I usually get two different reactions when people hear ‘disaster law’. The first is from people who do not have a legal background and they usually think anything that has the word law in it is about legislation and contracts. The second are from people with legal backgrounds and they think that disaster law is only about the laws related to a disaster – for example with the facilitation of international disaster assistance. This is just a small part of what disaster law is. As I mentioned before, disaster law covers a wide spectrum – from disasters to public health emergencies to climate change. It has also evolved over the years. When I first started with the team our main piece of work was International Disaster Response Law, which is the area of law that deals with the facilitation of international disaster assistance and disaster risk reduction, but now the programme has grown to include so many different areas -  the latest being Legislative Advocacy and Public Health Emergencies and Law.

What are you looking forward to in this new role as the Southeast Asia Disaster Law Adviser? 

I am excited to take on this new role and to further enhance disaster law in Southeast Asia. We are already in the midst of finalising research on Public Health Emergencies and Law for ASEAN states and that is just one exciting piece of work. What I look forward to most is, and has always been, meeting new people and learning about the different cultures and practices. This I find is especially useful because despite having guidance on best practice, nothing is more effective than developing it for the local context and this can only be done in partnership with National Societies and communities.

Why should students consider entering this field of law?

I am probably biased but I can’t think of why a student wouldn’t want to be involved in this interesting and evolving field of law. There is a poem by Robert Frost titled The Road Not Taken and the last two lines are: “I took the one less travelled by, and that has made all the difference.” I feel that disaster law is like that - the road less travelled. Not many law students would think to take it because the usual route would be to become a corporate lawyer. To me, taking the road less travelled by, has made all the difference.