In a sovereign territory, the right to establish boundaries and barriers that limit, regulate or tax the entry of goods and persons is considered sacrosanct. This right is ordinarily exercised through legal facilities – legislation, rules and regulatory guidelines – which are themselves patterned from and guided by international treaties and principles on trade, cooperation, the cross-border movement of goods and persons, humanitarian law and other factors. In addition to these formal mechanisms, other conditions and barriers to entry emerge from informal practices and the professional and personal factors that drive immigration, customs, port authorities, tax authorities and other key personnel. The humanitarian and disaster relief response that necessarily accompanies a major disaster event must navigate these legitimate and illegitimate, formal and informal barriers to entry. Without the appropriate levels of legal facilitation, international disaster relief actors can lack the lawful authority to enter a sovereign territory, import goods and specialty equipment, obtain the legal status and tax identity needed to navigate the country’s commercial and regulatory space, establish an in-country banking and financial presence, register its personnel to provide specialty services to the affected population and partner with local actors.
For these reasons, international disaster relief places a legitimate demand for the variation or abrogation of the ordinary rules and regulations that hinder or restrict the entry pf goods and persons. This variation in the application of the law can occur through formal and informal means. The need for special legal facilities increases exponentially during a major disaster event, as both demand for and supply of international relief goods and services will mount in the face of a need that overwhelms national capacity. In addition, the major catastrophic event has the typical impact of introducing new and ad hoc players to the disaster response field. In addition to the national disaster mechanisms and its partners that are typically involved in disaster and emergency management or humanitarian relief, the added influx of relief from ordinary citizens, private sector interests and international NGOS can quickly overwhelm the affected country’s ordinary response mechanisms.