Adaptation of international disaster law needed

Experts have said that more countries should follow international disaster law to ensure more efficient...

Members of the South African Red Cross assist displaced migrants in Johannesburg. Picture: Taurai Maduna/Eyewitness News

Experts have said that more countries should follow international disaster law to ensure more efficient delivery of international aid.

"Too often, this life-saving assistance is delayed by bureaucratic bottlenecks," said Elyse Mosquini, a senior advocacy officer of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).

International disaster law, the legal instruments that provide guidance on how disaster assistance should work, "is the closest thing we have to a rule book on how disaster response operations should be managed across borders", said Oliver Lacey-Hall, Asia head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN-OCHA).

The IFRC's International Disaster Response Laws, Rules and Principles (IDRL) programme developed the guidelines for the Domestic Facilitation and Regulation of International Disaster Relief and Initial Recovery Assistance, introduced in 2007.

"The guidelines aim to provide guidance to governments on how to reduce red tape and strengthen accountability," said Lacey-Hall.

Unfortunately, countries do not think they will require external help until it becomes an immediate reality. Only nine countries have passed IDRL-based domestic legislation.

Those are, Finland, Indonesia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Panama, Peru, the Philippines and US.

Experts said more countries need to act fast and follow their examples.

Lacey-Hall said the recent floods in the Philippines showed that strong disaster laws meant response operations went smoothly.

Among the stumbling blocks covered, are issues such as visas for aid workers, customs and taxes, and an overall need for coordination.