Botswana prepares for the worst

Hanna Butler and Ida Marstein, IFRC

Picture this – a large scale disaster hits a country. Hundreds of thousands of people are affected and in need of immediate assistance. Hundreds of well-intentioned international organizations descend on the country to help.

How do international agencies send relief items and rescue teams in a timely and coordinated manner? Are international staff waiting for visas to enter the country? Are critically needed emergency supplies such as food, water and tents waiting at ports for customs clearance? Is the aid even appropriate for the local context? These questions were recently discussed when the Botswana Red Cross Society, supported by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), launched a report on the legal preparedness in Botswana for facilitating and regulating international disaster assistance.

The report looks at existing laws and procedures relevant to issues of international disaster relief assistance in Botswana, finding that the gaps and fragmented nature of regulation in Botswana could lead to difficulties in cooperation in the event of a large scale disaster.

Titus Makosha, deputy secretary general at the Botswana Red Cross says the sharp increase in the number of natural disasters worldwide has prompted the Red Cross Movement to devote more attention to disaster preparedness activities. “We are beginning to see droughts, storms and floods of greater intensity occurring in new areas and affecting more communities. With the growing number of disasters comes a greater variety of international humanitarian actors, which makes it much more difficult for the affected state to coordinate assistance and to monitor the type and quality of relief offered to its population,” said Makosha.

The report was presented to local stakeholders from across the country to develop a shared understanding of potential legal challenges. Stakeholders from Air Botswana to the Botswana Blood Transfusion Service discussed the implications of a large scale disaster on their services and how they could better facilitate international assistance.

“While the focus of this exercise is to gauge how the current legislative frameworks in Botswana can best facilitate disaster relief assistance into the country, we must also consider the reverse – whether Botswana as a member of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the international community, has sufficient legal frameworks to facilitate the provision of relief assistance to its neighbours and to the international community at large,” says Dr Kennedy Masamvu, a member of SADC.

The workshop was praised by the parliamentary chairperson on the committee of climate change, Frank Ramsden who said it was a step in the right direction and that legislators can enact laws only if advocacy initiatives such as this continue.

The Botswana Red Cross Society will continue to engage with the government and other stakeholders to move forward with the process of strengthening existing legal systems or developing new legal instruments.

For more information on IFRC Disaster Law initiatives in sub-Saharan Africa, visit http://ifrc.org/en/what-we-do/disaster-law/news/africa/