Members of the East Africa Legislative Assembly in session during the debate on the Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Bill (Photo: EALA)
By Evelyne Karanja
NAIROBI, 14 March 2016 – East African countries have reached a landmark in their efforts to curb the impact of natural and man-made hazards, by enacting regional legislation on the management and reduction of disaster risk.
The assembly of the East African Community (EAC), a regional intergovernmental organisation that groups Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, United Republic of Tanzania and Uganda, passed the Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Bill at its third reading on Thursday. It is the first such regional legislation in Africa.
The bill marks a significant step in Africa’s implementation of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, a 15-year agreement adopted by the international community in March 2015.
"The passage of the Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Bill is a culmination of a process whose idea began five years ago. I am happy to see that my fellow parliamentarians have increasingly shown commitment to disaster risk reduction given the growing spate of disasters and disaster risk in the East African Community region. This Act will now serve as a key legal and policy instrument to accelerate the implementation of the Sendai Framework in the EAC Partner States," said Rwandan lawmaker Ms. Patricia Hajabakiga.
She introduced the legislation as a private member’s bill in April 2013, following a December 2010 visit to the assembly by a delegation from the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR). The assembly’s former speaker, Mr. Abdirahin Haithar Haji Abdi of Kenya, who is a UNISDR champion, also played a key role in the passage of the bill.
Efforts to pass the bill had been put on hold to ensure that various laws and protocols, such as the ratification of the EAC Protocol on Peace and Security, were in place to facilitate the necessary cooperation in disaster risk reduction and response.
“Disasters do not come knocking doors or give notice,” said Kenyan assembly member Ms. Judith Pareno.
According to World Bank data, the annual percentage of the EAC’s population affected by droughts, floods or extreme temperatures is around 2.8%, nine times the world median. Economic losses due to disasters are believed to run into the billions of dollars and the frequency of climate-related disasters has been on the rise.
With an average birth rate of 2.6%, according to EAC data, population densities have continued to rise leading to extreme competition for limited resources, environmental degradation and reduced bio-diversity. Poverty has also increased peoples’ vulnerability leading to increased rural-urban migration and mushrooming of informal settlements in cities.
The EAC act calls for a “legal framework for the intervention and assistance for people affected by climate change and natural related hazards and to protect the natural environment through integration of comprehensive disaster risk reduction and management practices in the East African Region.”
It has the provision for establishing a ministerial-level East African Community Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Authority, with clearly stipulated functions and encourages compliance with the Bill by taking appropriate measures such as adoption of laws and regulations and administrative actions and enforcement measures.
UNISDR has provided extensive support on disaster risk reduction and management to the EAC in recent years, helping with the crafting of the bill. Additional achievements are the development of an EAC Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Strategy, the creation of a Disaster Risk Reduction Working Group in the assembly and the establishment of a regional platform to drive policy. This has been accomplished with financial support from the European Commission's Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO), throughout this process.
"The EAC Partner States are at various levels of achievement on disaster risk reduction. The passage of the Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Bill by the East African Legislative Assembly is a key milestone in supporting legal and institutional framework for disaster risk reduction to enhance resilience at various levels. I am thankful to UNISDR for their support to the development and adoption of the Bill among many other activities in the last five years and look forward to continued collaboration with UNISDR and other relevant Partners using this framework," said Ms. Jesca Eriyo, EAC Deputy Secretary General.
The next step is the assent of the bill by the EAC heads of state.