Tackling Disasters and Pandemics Together with Laws and Policies that Leave No One Behind
An Update on Recent Developments in International Disaster Law
The 33rd International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent was held in Geneva on December 9-12, 2019, and was attended by delegations from: the states parties to the Geneva Conventions (with 170 out of 196 attending); National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (with 187 out of 192 attending); the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC); the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC); and 77 observer organizations. On the final day, the International Conference unanimously adopted a series of resolutions, including Resolution 7 entitled "Disaster Laws and Policies that Leave No One Behind." Presciently, the Conference also adopted Resolution 3 entitled "Time to Act: Tackling Epidemics and Pandemics Together."
Resolution 7 continued the longstanding role of the International Conference as "one of the key international fora for continued dialogue on the strengthening of disaster laws, rules and policies." It signified several important developments in international disaster law, including: the adoption of a new non-binding guidance document focusing on domestic legal frameworks for disaster preparedness and response; a stronger focus on ensuring that disaster laws facilitate the protection and inclusion of vulnerable groups; and a shift towards an integrated approach to disaster risk management, climate change adaptation, and sustainable development. This Insight briefly summarizes these three key developments and identifies potential future areas of development for international disaster law in light of Resolution 3 and the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Checklist on Law and Disaster Preparedness and Response
Although international disaster law is a rapidly developing field with a growing body of soft international law instruments and academic literature, it has to date provided limited guidance on effective domestic laws and policies for the preparedness and response phases of disaster management. A key outcome of the 33rd International Conference is the adoption of a non-binding guidance document that addresses this gap: The Checklist on Law and Disaster Preparedness and Response (DPR Checklist). The DPR Checklist is an assessment tool that guides decision-makers through a series of targeted questions designed to identify gaps and weaknesses in domestic laws and policies. It addresses a broad range of topics, including: contingency planning; disaster risk financing; early warning systems; states of emergency or disaster; evacuation; and disaster displacement.
The DPR Checklist is informed by recommendations developed by the IFRC's Disaster Law Programme following a comprehensive review of existing literature and an analysis of the laws and policies of a sample set of 20 countries, which were selected to represent a variety of regions and risk profiles. This research is published in the Multi-Country Synthesis Report on Law and Disaster Preparedness and Response, which accompanies the DPR Checklist and provides more detailed analysis and guidance. Similar to previous guidance documents developed by the IFRC's Disaster Law Programme and endorsed by the International Conference, it is anticipated that the DPR Checklist will become an important tool for Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies, that are regularly requested to provide technical assistance to domestic governments in relation to disaster law and policy.
Protection and Inclusion of Vulnerable Groups
During disasters, vulnerable groups (including but not limited to older persons, persons with disabilities, racial and ethnic minorities, and indigenous groups) may experience a higher incidence of disaster impacts, such as injury, death, and economic loss. Equally, vulnerable groups may experience a higher incidence of the various types of violent, exploitative, or otherwise harmful behaviors that have a propensity to increase in the aftermath of disaster. In response, the international community in the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 called for a people-centered, inclusive, and non-discriminatory approach to disaster risk reduction that pays special attention to the need to involve people disproportionately affected by disasters in disaster management.
Resolution 7 and the DPR Checklist represent a further step towards ensuring that disaster laws and policies facilitate the protection and inclusion of vulnerable groups. Resolution 7 and the DPR Checklist identify a plethora of specific, concrete measures to be implemented through domestic laws, policies and plans. As an example, Resolution 7 and the DPR Checklist both emphasize the importance of contingency planning to ensure continuity of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) services during disasters, as well as designing emergency shelter in a manner that mitigates the risk of SGBV (e.g., adequate lighting, sex-segregated and lockable toilets and showers, gender-balanced security staff). The impetus for this recommendation is the IFRC's research finding that the incidence of SGBV often increases during disasters, straining existing services and response mechanisms (e.g., policing, healthcare, legal services).
An Integrated Approach to Disaster Risk Management, Climate Adaptation and Sustainable Development
As global temperatures continue to rise, the international community is increasingly focusing on climate adaptation. Notably, the Paris Agreementrequires states parties to "engage in adaptation planning processes." Resolution 7 clearly acknowledges the strong linkages and synergies between disaster risk management and climate adaptation and encourages states to adopt an integrated approach to these issues, as well as innovative approaches, such as forecast-based financing and risk transfer mechanisms (e.g., crop and livestock insurance, catastrophe bonds, catastrophe reserve funds). Indeed, developing disaster laws, policies, and plans that address evolving meteorological risks is an important aspect of climate adaptation planning, and the DPR Checklist is therefore a tool which may assist states engaging in climate adaptation planning pursuant to the Paris Agreement. Resolution 7 also draws a link between disaster risk management and sustainable development, noting that disaster risk reduction is critical to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. Resolution 7 thus signifies a move away from a siloed approach to disaster risk management, climate adaptation, and sustainable development, towards a holistic and integrated approach to these challenges.
Potential Future areas of Development for International Disaster Law
Presciently, the International Conference also adopted Resolution 3, entitled "Time to Act: Tackling Epidemics and Pandemics Together." Resolution 3 emphasizes the importance of early warning and rapid response capacity for pandemics and epidemics, especially in hard-to-reach, vulnerable, underserved, and high-risk communities. Equally, it calls on National Societies to support governments to address pandemics and epidemics, including governments' efforts to strengthen the core capacities required under the International Health Regulations. The experience of the COVID-19 pandemic in the period that has elapsed since the International Conference has underscored the critical importance of these actions.
The COVID-19 pandemic puts new and important topics on the agenda for international disaster lawyers. One important issue is how legal and institutional frameworks for public health emergencies interact with legal and institutional frameworks for other types of disaster, and whether there is a greater need for harmonization or integration between these frameworks. While the Bangkok Principles for the Implementation of the Health Aspects of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 call for greater integration, it is ultimately unclear what this means in practical terms at the domestic level. A fundamental yet unanswered question is whether, at the domestic level, biological hazards and public health emergencies should be integrated into comprehensive multi-hazard disaster management systems (together with meteorological, geophysical, and technological hazards), or whether they should be regulated by separate, specialized legal and institutional frameworks. This topic warrants detailed investigation, especially due to the potential for the COVID-19 pandemic to catalyze a wave of domestic legal reform. Another important topic that may garner increased attention is the role of domestic legal frameworks in supporting and enabling the implementation of states parties' obligations under the International Health Regulations.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also highlighted the relevance of international disaster response law (IDRL) to public health emergencies. The IDRL Guidelines, which were unanimously adopted at the 30th International Conference in 2007, recommend that certain actors should have access to legal facilities that permit them to rapidly and cost-effectively move goods, equipment, and personnel across international borders in order to provide urgent, lifesaving humanitarian assistance. Restrictions on the cross-border movement of people, goods, and equipment introduced during the COVID-19 pandemic have illustrated the relevance of this core norm of IDRL to public health emergencies and may, equally, serve to highlight the relevance to public health emergencies of other areas of international law, such as international trade law. In light of the many challenges and research priorities brought into focus by the COVID-19 pandemic, international disaster law promises to remain a rapidly evolving and dynamic area of international law.
About the Author: Rachel Macleod is a Senior Disaster Law Officer at the IFRC, where she focuses on researching and developing guidance on best practice for domestic disaster law and policy. Rachel would like to thank David Fisher and Isabelle Granger of the IFRC for their insightful comments on an earlier draft of this Insight.
 Int'l Conf. Red Cross & Red Crescent, 33IC/19/R7, Disaster Laws and Policies that Leave No One Behind (Dec. 12, 2019), https://rcrcconference.org/app/uploads/2019/12/33IC_R7-Disaster-Law-resolution-adopted-EN-1.pdf.
 Int'l Conf. Red Cross & Red Crescent, 33IC/19/R3, Time to Act: Tackling Epidemics and Pandemics Together (Dec. 12, 2019), https://rcrcconference.org/app/uploads/2019/12/33IC_R3-Epidemic_Pandemic-resolution-adopted-ENing-CLEAN-EN.pdf.
 Int'l Conf. Red Cross & Red Crescent, 33IC/19/R7, supra note 1, ¶ 14.
 Some guidance on disaster preparedness and response is provided by the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030, specifically under "Priority 4: Enhancing Disaster Preparedness for Effective Response and to "Build Back Better" in Recovery, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction": G.A. Res. 69/283, Annex II, Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015–2030, ¶ 32-34.
 Int'l Fed'n Red Cross & Red Crescent Soc'ys, The Checklist on Law and Disaster Preparedness and Response (2019), https://media.ifrc.org/ifrc/wp-content/uploads/sites/5/2019/11/DPR_Checklist_Final_EN_Screen.pdf [hereinafter DPR Checklist].
 Id. at 10-11.
 Id. at 15-24, 27-28.
 Int'l Fed'n Red Cross & Red Crescent Soc'ys, Law and Disaster Preparedness and Response: Multi-Country Synthesis Report (2019), https://media.ifrc.org/ifrc/wp-content/uploads/sites/5/2019/11/DPR_Synthesis-Report_EN_Screen.pdf [hereinafter DPR Synthesis Report].
 Int'l Fed'n Red Cross & Red Crescent Soc'ys, Introduction to the Guidelines for the Domestic Facilitation and Regulation of International Disaster Relief and Initial Recovery Assistance (2011), https://media.ifrc.org/ifrc/wp-content/uploads/sites/5/2017/12/IDRL-Checklist-EN-LR.pdf[hereinafter IDRL Guidelines]; Int'l Fed'n Red Cross & Red Crescent Soc'ys, The Checklist on Law and Disaster Risk Reduction (2015), https://www.ifrc.org/Global/Publications/IDRL/Publications/The%20Checklist%20on%20law%20and%20DRR%20Oct2015%20EN%20v4.pd... Checklist]. The IDRL Guidelines were unanimously adopted by Resolution 4 of the 30th International Conference in 2007, while the DRR Checklist was endorsed by Resolution 6 of the 32nd International Conference in 2015.
 DPR Synthesis Report, supra note 8, at 114-124.
 G.A. Res. 69/283, Annex II, Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015–2030, ¶¶ 7, 19(d), 19(g), 30(j), 33(b), 36(a).
 DPR Checklist, supra note 5, at 31-34.
 Int'l Conf. Red Cross & Red Crescent, 33IC/19/R7, supra note 1, ¶ 8. DPR Checklist, supra note 5, at 31-32. The term sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) is a composite term used within the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement to refer to two distinct but overlapping phenomena: (i) sexual violence; and (ii) gender-based violence: Int'l Fed'n Red Cross & Red Crescent Soc'ys, Global Study: Effective Law and Policy on Gender Equality and Protection From Sexual and Gender-Based Violence in Disasters, 7 (2017) https://redcross.eu/positions-publications/effective-law-and-policy-on-gender-equality-and-protection-from-sgbv-in-disas... Global Study].
 Int'l Fed'n Red Cross & Red Crescent Soc'ys, Unseen, Unheard: Gender-Based Violence in Disasters, 8, 19-25 (2015), https://www.ifrc.org/Global/Documents/Secretariat/201511/1297700_GBV_in_Disasters_EN_LR2.pdf [hereinafter Unseen, Unheard Report]; SGBV Global Study, supra note 15, at 9-10, 45.
 IPCC, Special Report: Global Warming of 1.5°C, Chapter 1, p. 51 (2018), https://www.ipcc.ch/site/assets/uploads/sites/2/2019/05/SR15_Chapter1_Low_Res.pdf.
 Paris Agreement art. 7(9), opened for signature Apr. 22, 2016, T.I.A.S. No. 16-1104 (entered into force Nov. 4, 2016).
 Int'l Conf. Red Cross & Red Crescent, 33IC/19/R7, supra note 1, ¶¶ 1-2.
 Id. para. 11.
 Int'l Conf. Red Cross & Red Crescent, 33IC/19/R3, supra note 1.
 Id. ¶ 3.
 Id. ¶ 3.
 Int'l Conf. on Imp. Health Aspects of Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030, Bangkok Principles for the Implementation of the Health Aspects of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 (Mar. 11, 2016), https://www.unisdr.org/files/globalplatform/59224b6aebe8fBangkok_Principles_for_the_implementation_of_the_health_aspects....
 This is a topic which has already received detailed attention in the context of Joint External Evaluations conducted by the World Health Organization: WHO, Joint External Evaluation Mission Reports, https://www.who.int/ihr/procedures/mission-reports/en/.
 IDRL Guidelines, supra note 9, ¶¶ 16-24. Int'l Conf. Red Cross & Red Crescent, 30IC/19/R4, Adoption of the Guidelines for the Domestic Facilitation and Regulation of International Disaster Relief and Initial Recovery Assistance (Nov. 30, 2007), https://www.ifrc.org/Global/Governance/Meetings/International-Conference/2007/final-resolutions/ic-r4.pdf.
 See generally Giovanna Adinolfi, Natural Disasters and Trade Research: Study II – A Legal Mapping (2019), https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/devel_e/study2_exec_summary_sympnaturaldisaster29112019_e.pdf.