From left to right: Bobi Odiko, East African Legislative Assembly; Abdou Sane, Senegal; Saber Chowdhury, Bangladesh; Alex Byarugaba, Uganda; and Abdirahim H.Abdi, Speaker of East African Legislative Assembly. Not pictured: Saumura Tioulong, Cambodia.
By Dizery Salim
GENEVA, 21 December 2011 – Members of parliament from Bangladesh, Cambodia, Senegal, Uganda and the East African Legislative Assembly came together in Geneva this week to agree on the establishment of a Global Advisory Group for parliamentarians with UNISDR’s Special Adviser on Parliamentarians, Feng Min Kan.
Saber Hossain Chowdhury, a member of parliament from Dhaka, Bangladesh, said parliamentarians in his country were instrumental in pushing for action on climate change, and for drawing a connection between the changing climate and increased disaster risk.
“The link between disaster risk reduction and climate change is being recognized in Bangladesh’s official policy and even the budget office,” said Mr. Chowdhury, who added that Bangladeshi members of parliament were currently drafting a law to support the new policy.
But more needed to be done to create demand within government for new legislation, and for increasing the effectiveness of existing legislation and its eventual implementation, other parliamentarians said.
UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction, Margareta Wahlström, in her exchange with the parliamentarians in Geneva, called on members of parliament around the world to use their legislative power to promote good international governance.
“In the summer of 2012, the international community will enter discussions on a new framework for sustainable development at the World Conference on Sustainable Development. Disaster risk reduction will certainly figure in those talks,” said Ms. Wahlström.
“The question is how to make disaster reduction effective inside communities, where the real disaster risk reduction takes place. With enough support from UNISDR, parliamentarians can play a useful role, by working with both federal and local government officials to draft common-sense laws that are practical and actionable.”
Already, strong support from the speaker of parliament in Senegal had helped generate a lot of interest in other West African countries such as Mali, Niger and Benin, according to Abdou Sane, a member of Senegal’s National Assembly.
The same energy and enthusiasm is also evident within countries – members of parliament had helped disaster risk reduction take root in Uganda’s new parliament, said Alex Bakunda, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in that country’s lower house.
“Around 70 parliamentarians have joined the Parliamentary Forum and nine have formed an executive committee to support the implementation of a newly-approved national policy on DRR,” said Mr. Bakunda.
Saumura Tioulong, a member of parliament from Cambodia, described parliamentarians as the hub of a wheel with many spokes, representing stakeholders ranging from scientists and members of the media, to civil society and local governments. “Parliamentarians are able to create links between people of different agendas. They are also able to bring together actors with local, national, regional or international outlooks.”
Building political will among parliamentarians themselves, across party lines, is another big concern, as well as ensuring appropriate accountability by the responsible government ministries, explained Ms. Kan, the UNISDR Special Adviser on Parliamentarians.
“It is important to empower parliaments as an institution. Building the capacity of individual members of parliament cannot be overemphasized. They need technical information and research assistance for their advocacy, and anything UNISDR can do to help them raise public awareness among their constituents is essential to our common success.”