Though rarely making headlines, disasters in Central Asia constitute one of the most significant threats to human security in the region. It is a vast area that is frequently affected by a range of natural hazards including earthquakes, floods, mudslides, landslides and avalanches. This, coupled with varying degrees of socio-economic development, highlights the need for Central Asian Republics to be well-prepared to mitigate, prepare for and respond to disasters.
States and National Red Crescent Societies in the region have been considering the issue of legal preparedness for disasters for a number of years now, and several consultations and initiatives have taken place. The need to have laws and policies in place to manage and respond to disasters was recognized with the adoption of a Model Act on International Disaster Assistance by the Inter-Parliamentary Assembly of Member Nations of the Commonwealth of Independent States (IPA CIS) in 2014.
The Republic of Kyrgyzstan is currently leading the way at the national level, with a new law on facilitating international disaster relief due for adoption this year. The draft law is based largely on the CIS Model Act on International Disaster Assistance, and the ‘Guidelines for the domestic facilitation and regulation of international disaster relief and initial recovery assistance’ (the ‘IDRL’ Guidelines).
Last month, the National Societies and Governments of four of the Central Asian states (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan) came together for a regional ‘consultative conference on legal aspects of disaster risk reduction’, held in Almaty, Kazakhstan on January 18. This event was hosted by the newly established Almaty Centre for Emergency Services and Disaster Risk Reduction (CESDRR) and was held within the framework of a project on ‘Consolidating and Strengthening DRR in Central Asia’, funded by the Department of the European Commission for Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection (ECHO).
The parties to the conference in January adopted the 'Almaty Declaration', which outlines their commitment to strengthening disaster law. A Memorandum of Understanding on disaster preparedness and response was also signed by the Red Crescent Societies of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, the IFRC and the CESDRR, cementing their commitment to strengthen this area of work.
The workshop brought together representatives from National Red Crescent Societies, national authorities, UN agencies, and other key stakeholders in the region. It provided an opportunity to consolidate existing experience and developments, and identify a clear way forward for strengthening legal preparedness for disaster risk management, particularly at the national level.
Prior to the consultative workshop, the CESDRR hosted a ‘National Society Dialogue’ on disaster law, where the National Society representatives came together to discuss how to harness their unique auxiliary role and undertake effective legislative advocacy – the aim of which is to create tangible legal and policy change in the interests of the at-risk and disaster-affected communities which they serve.
It was clear from the discussions that law can play a fundamental role in establishing the necessary frameworks to facilitate many aspects of disaster risk management, especially when it comes to facilitating life-saving disaster relief in an emergency. As highlighted by the Director of the CESDRR, Mr. Valery Petrov, during his closing remarks, “at the end of the day it’s not just about moving goods across borders, it’s about saving people’s lives.”