Red Cross Red Crescent calls for laws to empower vulnerable people to reduce their disaster risk

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On the occasion of the third session of the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction to be convened in Geneva this week, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is calling on governments around the world to strengthen the roles of communities in their disaster risk management laws. Over the last decade, many governments have improved their disaster management laws and policies to place more emphasis on preventing rather than just responding to disasters.

Agencies’ mandates have been extended, committees have been formed, and the roles of different ministries have been improved. But the changes are still too focused on governments themselves. One of the results is a gap in local action to reduce disaster risks. This gap was a key finding of the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction’s Mid-Term Review of the Hyogo Framework for Action, released in March.

Bekele Geleta, Secretary-General, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, emphasized that disasters do not strike committees – they strike people and their communities. “In the long run, we will not be successful in reducing these risks if our standard frameworks merely distribute responsibilities among dedicated agencies and expert groups,” he said. “Communities must also be empowered to take responsibility for reducing their own risks and in influencing decision-making and planning in disaster management.”

How can laws do this? Following are some examples that have emerged from IFRC’s research:

  • Vulnerable communities should be given a specific right, such as those enacted by law recently in Algeria, Serbia and El Salvador, to be educated about their disaster risks.

  • Community participation in local decision-making bodies can also be mandated, as the Philippines and Zambia have done through disaster management acts adopted in 2010.

  • Communities can be given an actionable “right to protection” to hold government entities accountable for failures to fulfil their duties, as Indonesia did under its 2007 disaster management law.

Bekele Geleta said: “Governments cannot – and should not – try to do it all themselves. Laws are not just good for creating institutions and committees, they can also help communities to help themselves.”

The IFRC and its member National Societies, with their unique volunteer base and over 150 years of collective experience in disaster management, are working around the world to bring this critical issue to the forefront. At the Global Platform, the IFRC will organize a dedicated session on successes and outstanding gaps in disaster risk management legislation with regard to the empowerment of vulnerable communities.

For further information, please contact: Paul Conneally, Manager, media & public communication, tel.+ 41 22 730 4669