By Dizery Salim
Geneva – The United Nations office for disaster risk reduction, UNISDR, today officially welcomed five members of parliament from Bangladesh, Uganda, Cambodia, Senegal and the East African Legislative Assembly as parliamentary champions committed to promoting legislation for disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation.
This month they officially began two-year terms as members of the first Advisory Group of Parliamentarians for Disaster Risk Reduction, solidifying a multi-year initiative by UNISDR to make progress in the realm of national legislation and risk reduction.
The champions are Saber Chowdhury, Chair of Bangladesh’s All-Party Parliamentary Group on Climate Change and Environment; Alex Bakunda Byarugaba, Chairman of Uganda’s Foreign Affairs Committee of Parliament; Saumura Tioulong, member of Parliament representing Phnom Penh, Cambodia, and former Deputy Governor of Cambodia's Central Bank from 1993-1995; Abdou Sane, member of the National Assembly of Senegal and President of the parliament’s Network for Disaster Risk Reduction; and Abdirahin Abdi, former speaker of the East African Legislative Assembly from June 2007 to June 2012.
“Parliamentarians play a particular role. They can put pressure on the executive to think about prevention. They can hold governments accountable,” said Feng Min Kan, Special Adviser to the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Disaster Risk Reduction, Margareta Wahlström, who has nurtured the UNISDR parliamentary initiative since 2008.
“Our role is in developing our capacities,” said Mr. Chowdhury, Chair of the Advisory Group. “What can we do in our own constituencies? How we can get communities involved? We may have grand national plans, but it is at the local level that action is taken.”
Speaking at the first meeting of the Advisory Group, which took place in Geneva from 27 to 28 June, Mr. Chowdhury was also quick to acknowledge the challenges. “Without a policy context, we cannot rush into legislation. You need to be very clear on what your policies are in order to use legislation as a tool to advance the policy. There are best practices that we need to look at. In the Philippines, there are excellent laws. In Bangladesh we have strong policies, but have not yet done the legislation,” he said.
The Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act of 2010, cited by Mr. Chowdhury, and widely regarded as a model for disaster risk reduction legislation, “provides for the development of policies and plans and the implementation of actions and measures pertaining to all aspects of disaster risk reduction and management, including good governance, risk assessment and early warning, knowledge building and awareness raising, reducing underlying risk factors, and preparedness for effective response and early recovery.”
Philippine lawmakers, in a review supported by UNISDR after Typhoon Sendong killed over 1,000 people last December 2011, have admitted that putting laws in place is just the beginning. UNISDR regional champion, Senator Loren Legarda, said there needs to be action at the community level to ensure better coordination and improved dissemination of early warning as well as implementation of existing legislation on land-use and deforestation.
The Advisory Group of Parliamentarians were also joined by Lianne Dalziel, Member of the Parliament of New Zealand; José Ramón Sánchez, Member of the Latin American Parliament, Venezuela; Kirsty Duncan, Member of Parliament of Canada; and Gay Mitchell, Member of the European Parliament for Dublin, Ireland.
“I have a range of interests not related necessarily to DRR until September 2010 when the first earthquake occurred,” said Ms. Dalziel, referring to the devastating 7.0 quake that led its mayor of Christchurch to declare a state of emergency for ten weeks. “The second occurred in February. It was of a smaller magnitude, but more damaging. Since then, I am determined to see that the message gets out to the people. We have to empower them to own their own recovery after disaster and develop ways of doing decision making and governance that are different from the past, so that we are actually prepared for disasters before they happen.”
On the meeting’s final day, the members of parliament agreed to develop regional action plans in their respective regions in collaboration with UNISDR Regional Offices, with a view to meeting again in February 2013 in preparation for the 2013 Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction which convenes every two years.
“The year 2015 is a watershed year and will define the following 10 years,” said Mr. Chowdhury, who is also Chair of the new Advisory Group. “One of the major outcomes of the newly concluded Rio+20 sustainable development conference is that now we are talking about a set of sustainable development goals which will replace the Millennium Development Goals by the end of next year. Members of parliament often focus at the national level to mainstream disaster risk reduction into national plans. But because of the post-Rio scenario, the international dimension has also opened up. We are also trying to see what can be done at the international level to advance this agenda.”
The Group is concerned to ensure that targets for investment in disaster risk reduction are met from overseas development funds. Part of the terms of reference for Advisory Group members is “to monitor the implementation of laws and policies, including the appropriate resource allocations in the budgetary process, to provide support to the effective realization of the intentions of the legislative and executive decisions.”