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6. The Legal and Regulatory Environment: Implications of Sectoral Approaches

Legal and regulatory environments differ enormously from region to region, country to country, and government to government, as does the degree to which their contents is actually applied and enforced. Very important in this respect are the legislative tradition of a given nation state, the historical trajectory of its institutions and the separation of powers within them, including the magistrates. Steurer and Bollin (2001) find that “in developing countries, the necessary norms that would allow to reduce disaster vulnerability among the population through settlement policy, land use planning, or standards for infrastructure (construction of housing, roads and bridges, electricity, telephone and water provision) are usually absent. Or else, the laws, decrees or plans in question are not applied” (p3; transl. by author). Turkey’s earthquake fatalities in 1999 were victims of ineffective building codes, not poverty.

Oasis Development in the Mauritanian Sahara

The multi-functional Associations de Gestion Participative de Développement des Oasis (Participatory Oases Development Associations) set up under the OASIS II Project in Mauritania differ from many of the village committee-type institutions typically created on donor demand. For these associations to take on certain rural development responsibilities, the legal framework needed to be amended, and eventually a law (Law 016/98) was passed: without it, the associations would have to had to be constituted as cooperatives, and the responsibilities assigned to them in terms of the management of common property natural resources within their oases would not have had any legal backing. Or else, they would have had to be constituted as (development) associations, but then their handling of credit would not have had any legal backing.

The associations have contributed very successfully to building water infrastructure to counteract the effects of drought by recharging groundwater flows. A number of other, direct disaster risk mitigation activities have not figured very prominently until recently - plans are based on local priorities. But as income-generating activities are increasingly successful, this trend is changing, and local reforestation and sand dune fixation initiatives will become more effective at fighting drought and desertification.

Most importantly, though, social commitment to such activities has been “relocated” from a narrow tribal hamlet level to that of the entire oasis watershed. It is only at this level that DRM can become meaningful, and the associations thus hold major potential for sustainable NRM and preventive disaster risk management. According to their members, it is the first time in history that oasis inhabitants have come together to discuss NRM problems in an open, oasis-wide forum such as the associations; the federation of associations represents an even more important innovation in this respect, fostering the exchange of experiences and cross-fertilisation as well as the collaboration with government line agencies in regional-level DRM planning.

Source: Author’s mission notes 2002

Special bodies are sometimes set up to monitor their enforcement, and, depending on the degree of effective decentralisation, the states that make up some of the large federal republics such as Brazil, Nigeria, or India, may institute their own monitoring arrangements and pass their own separate laws and regulations. As laws and regulations stand or fail the test of facilitating and streamlining responses during the urgency of a catastrophic event, their contribution to the efficiency with which natural disasters are handled by the government and non-government sectors alike becomes an empirical question that only case studies can illustrate. The latter, alas, do not normally examine the role of the legal and regulatory environment explicitly, or else do so in passing.

In India, following the cyclone of 1971 (which cost the lives of 10,000), the government of the state of Orissa prepared a report outlining a series of measures to be taken to prepare for future cyclones, which later led to the Orissa Relief Code. This Code provides the basic framework for the implementation of emergency measures under all types of emergency situations, as it details the specific responsibilities of the state’s Special Relief Commissioner and its different line ministries. During the latest cyclone of 1999, planning responses were still hindered by a lack of updated and available vulnerability maps and databases on conditions on the coast.

A study on that catastrophic event (IMM n.d.) postulates that “whilst diversity of approaches may be beneficial, a lack of norms for designing specific interventions (such as Cash- or Food-For-Work (FFW) Programmes, agricultural input distribution, etc.) has led to some difficulties between NGOs and communities (...), (...) [and] the feasibility, viability and sustainability of some inputs is unclear. Perhaps a greater level of sharing of information and experience and the agreement of some standardisation/norms of interventions early in the programme would have assisted. There was consensus between the NGO staff that sharing and harmonisation of approaches (especially in areas such as FFW) would have been useful but would have to have been led by an outside agency such as DfID India if it was to be achieved. [Although the line ministries] had a regular presence in the coastal areas (...), most of them tended to have a narrow sectoral focus and this was to prove an obstacle to them preparing proposals for DFID support under a wider livelihoods umbrella in the aftermath of the (...) cyclone” (p34).

At the same time, the study reveals that “the Revenue Department and the Panchayati Raj institutions were also well represented and both take a much wider perspective. The Revenue Department was to prove crucial in spreading the warnings before the cyclone, and to participating in the planning and coordination of the relief and rehabilitation processes” (p28). Intersectoral ministries, departments and line agencies[6], or large and respected NGOs such as the Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA)[7] in Gujarat, India, are thus better placed and equipped to bring together the different government and non-government actors to deal with DRM challenges than, say, the Ministry of Agriculture or the line agencies in charge of NRM. Even some of the environmental protection agencies, often set up with donor money during the 1990s, are not necessarily adequate partners because of their selective approach, and, especially, their limited (political) ‘clout’ and outreach given a usually narrowly circumscribed legal remit and mandate.

[6] Such as, for example, where it exists, the Ministry of Local Government or Decentralisation, Directorate of Local Collectivities or Community Development, or Ministry of Rural Development.
[7] SEWA’s post-disaster assistance (see Section 8 below) was very well received by its members due to several factors: first, it had very good knowledge of the area and its population, as it had been working in the affected areas for over ten years, and under normal circumstances had assisted its members with diverse programmes to enhance their food security, housing, and health and employment security. Second, it had experience in previous disasters and an extensive grass-roots network of women members throughout the most affected areas that made a rapid and effective disaster response highly feasible. Third, thanks to its solid reputation and institutional influence, SEWA rapidly managed to obtain tents, medical aid and supplies from specialised agencies. In fact, some agencies like UNICEF and WFP, and the government of the state of Gujarat, channelled relief aid through SEWA. The state government in particular gave SEWA cash doles, in addition to food packets and medical aid, to be passed on to affected members. Fourth, the decentralised and well coordinated nature of its relief distribution network enabled SEWA to provide adequate and timely assistance.

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