A Disasters Law for Nepal

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    A Disasters Law for Nepal

    Used effectively, disaster law and policy can support more integrated, inclusive and equitable approaches to building resilience.

    By Laxmi Khanal

    Over 150 people were dead, 345 people injured, 12,060 families displaced and 19,286 household damaged due to a devastating earthquake in the western part of Nepal on 3 November 2023. Earthquake survivors waited for food and effective shelter till a long time after the earthquake. People were then staying outside of their home. They were not able to sleep at night and many, mostly women, died due to the cold outside. The government of Nepal is supporting them with support from external humanitarian partners. This time, the government was capable to manage search and rescue on its own and is lending support in recovery. However, International supports may be required if a larger catastrophic happens in the future.

    Strong national rules, procedures and laws are essential to oversee for receiving international support without any legal hassles, taking into consideration the potentiality of imminent ruinous disasters. The government of Nepal has to review, revise, draft and develop the rules and the laws to remove unnecessary bureaucratic delay and red tape that could hamper efforts to save lives. Nepal is solely handling current earthquake during search and rescue. But being prone to earthquakes, flood and climate induced disasters, Nepal would need huge international support in the days and years to come. Considering the circumstance, Nepal’s humanitarian sector and its government need to aware and review the legal provisions, least these turn out to be problematic. Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal also directed to the concerned authorities to review the laws and procedures relating to disaster as per the need. 

    Disaster Law is the legal base of laws, policies, guidelines, mechanisms, rules and regulation to effectively work in disaster risk reduction and management.

    Laws and policies support all aspects of disaster management. If a country has effective disaster laws and policies to address the entire cycle (mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery) of disaster risk reduction and management then carrying out activities in the DRR sector, from national to community and policy to implementation level, can become efficient.

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    Disaster Law and Policy is essential to ensure that all people are included in, and protected by disaster and climate change actions. A disaster law helps to clarify roles, responsibilities, and coordination mechanisms for disaster risk management across sectors as well as from national to local level. Used effectively, disaster law and policy can support more integrated, inclusive and equitable approaches to building resilience. They can mandate governmental actors to identify, plan, resource and meet the special needs of vulnerable groups. They can require the direct and meaningful participation of vulnerable groups in decision-making, design and implementation of disaster and climate change activities.

    In the present circumstances, most organizations and individuals are giving priorities and investing in disaster risk reduction at the implementation level. Very few organizations and individuals have shown their concern regarding a disaster law, even though disaster laws are the unseen foundation of disaster risk reduction and management. It helps to lessen the vulnerabilities from the national to the community levels. Legal gaps in disaster risk reduction can reduce the resilience of communities during disasters. Consequently, without a strong legal framework for risk reduction and management during mitigation, preparedness, response, relief and recovery, authorities can be shielded throughout response operation. Prior experiences showed that even well prepared countries need international assistance in the event of a major disasters such as a storm, earthquake, flood or tsunami. If the receiver country has effective disaster laws, ensuing support can be received without any hassle and mobilized effectively for the needy people.

    Every year we encounter different kinds of disasters. Many people are affected by these disasters and lose their lives and properties. Many governments, organizations and individuals invests their capacity and fund in relief and response while others invests in preparedness, such as early warning systems, anticipatory action, capacity enhancement as preparedness. These are a research-based set of precautionary actions that are taken in preparation for potential disasters. So most government, organizations, communities and individuals invest their knowledge, capacity and fund in disaster preparedness to better respond and cope with the immediate aftermath of a disaster.

    The same efforts and investments should be taken for effective disaster law since disaster causes enormous human suffering all over the world and the right laws and policies can help to keep communities safe and save lives, properties and livestock. It also benefits to reduce the financial losses of the individuals and organizations. Ultimately, effective disaster law will be advantageous to respond to all components in the cycle of disaster risk reduction in an effective manner.

    Areas of disaster laws are: climate smart disaster risk reduction, disaster preparedness and response, disaster recovery, protection, gender and inclusion and public health in emergencies.

    International disaster law (IDL) focuses on the legal issues arising from the preparedness to response and recovery from different natural hazards, such as earthquakes, flood, landslides, cyclones, pandemics, as well as human-made disasters such as large-scale industrial accidents.

    The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and the United Nations Development Programme developed a new practical guidance tool for the area of disaster law, the Checklist on Law and Disaster Risk Reduction. ‘The Checklist on Law and Disaster Preparedness and Response’ is an IFRC tool launched in 2019 to provide specific guidance on how to strengthen law and policy to effectively address protection, gender, and inclusion in emergency, disaster, and climate change activities.

    Nepal has the overall responsibility for national disaster management, as reflected in the country’s Constitution, its Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act (2074), Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Rules (2076), National Disaster Response Framework 2013 and National Strategy for Disaster Risk Management Plan of Action (2018-2030).  

    Recently, Nepal’s ministry of federal affairs and general administration has developed the ‘Municipal Disaster Risk Governance Assessment (MDRGA)’ tool, replicating the IFRC’s ‘The Checklist on Law and Disaster Preparedness and Response’. This tool can help support local municipalities to better manage the DRRM responsibilities, and disaster risk reduction through mainstreaming of DRR into sectoral development policies, plans and programmes, especially at the local level. Similarly, it also helps to map out existing status of disaster risk governance, identify gaps and challenges of the municipalities in terms of DRR and invest in DRR risk-sensitive governance.

    We face new emerging disasters such as climate change, wildfires, cyclone and pandemics. In this scenario, we also need effective, efficient disaster laws and policies to address the situation arising out of disasters promptly, effectively and constructively.

    In Nepal, Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act 2074 with its regulation 2076 is in place. Similarly, Prime Minister’s Disaster Relief Fund Regulations 2063, National Disaster Response Framework (NDRF), The National Strategy for Disaster Risk Management (NSDRM) are in place.

    These domestic disaster laws, policies, and plans are supported by three key international statues: the Sendai Framework, the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement. A good disaster law can be the key document to assist governments to become better prepared for common legal problems in terms of disaster risk reduction and management. It is time to review, revise and develop existing and new rules, guidelines and laws relating to disaster risk management. Doing it now will prepare Nepal to respond to any kind of future disasters.

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