The review kicked off last week with a week-long preliminary consultation with key Government and partner stakeholders, who were invited to provide comments on gaps in the 1984 law and recommendations to bring the law up to date with current good practices and to strengthen disaster management in the country.
Modified in 1987 to add the Department for Provincial and Local Government Affairs to the Disaster Management Committee, the 1984 Act has otherwise remained unchanged for 36 years, despite the growing impact of climate change and other hazards affecting PNG residents and the emergence of global good practices in disaster risk management and risk reduction.
“Many things have changed over the more than three decades since the Act became law. Approaches to disaster management have evolved and improved, and the Act needs to capture and build on these changes,” Col. Carl Wrakonei, NDC Director, said.
“We need to clarify the role and authority of the national disaster centre as the country’s primary agency for coordinating and managing all disaster and emergencies in a consistent manner. We also need to include provisions for preparing for and reducing the risk of hazards,” he added.
There was an attempt in 2014 to create a Disaster Risk Management Commission to replace the 1984 Act which stagnated and another attempt in 2018 following the Highlands earthquake to revise the 1984 Act that failed to gain ground.
“This time, we are seeking to make a comprehensive overhaul of the Act. I have created an advisory committee to take into consideration the proposals from 2014 and 2018, and to collaborate with a broad spectrum of stakeholders,” Col. Wrakonei stated.
The committee is consulting with other Government agencies, church and civil society partners, the Red Cross Movement, UN organisations, international financial institutions and development partners.
Lessons learned from recent disaster responses, including the 2015-16 El Niño drought, the 2018 Highlands earthquake, and the current 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, will also be reflected in the proposed changes to the Act.
“This review comes at a critical time after PNG has experienced a series of critical national emergencies, not to mention myriad smaller disasters, such as volcanic eruptions, a polio outbreak, and annual flooding events,” said Gianluca Rampolla, United Nations Resident Coordinator, who co-chairs the Disaster Management Team, a group of international humanitarian organisations in PNG led by the UN and NDC to support national disaster preparedness and response.
Rampolla also pointed to the need to learn from the COVID response and to link this review with the different streams of legislative reforms that are taking place.
“As important as having the right legislative framework is ensuring that financing mechanisms are well established,” Rampolla added, highlighting the difficulty to access funding quickly and the need to invest up front in disaster preparedness and risk management.
He similarly emphasised that investment is needed to build capacity at the provincial and local levels, stressing that disaster management is everyone’s responsibility.
The current Act needs to be broadened in scope to include all aspects of disaster management.
“The 1984 Act narrowly looks at disaster response, but we need to also build into the law our obligations to prepare for and mitigate or reduce the risk of disasters,” Col. Wrakonei said.
PNG is a signatory to the Sendai Framework on Disaster Risk Reduction and adopted a National Disaster Risk Reduction Framework in 2018.
“We also need to understand that it isn’t just natural disasters that affect us; PNG is at risk for other kinds of emergencies, too, like pandemics, human-caused incidents, and we need to be able to adapt to the impacts of climate change,” he added.
UNDP, which has been supporting NDC through a Disaster Risk Management and Humanitarian Coordination project, is providing technical assistance for the review and reimagining of the Act.
Richard Higgins, Humanitarian Coordination Specialist with UNDP and secretariat to the Disaster Management Team, highlighted that disaster management must be inclusive and ensure protections for the most vulnerable and marginalised populations.
“People living with disabilities, women, elderly and children are at higher risk of the impacts from disasters, but often overlooked when it comes to preparing for and responding to these kinds of events. The Act will need to not only ensure that vulnerable and marginalised populations’ needs are addressed, but that they are a part of communities’ preparation for and responses to disasters,” Higgins said.
He also noted that the Act must address the needs of people displaced by disasters and emergencies, including cross-border movement of people as a result of emergency incidents.
“Disaster management is everyone’s responsibility, not just NDC’s. It requires a whole-of-nation approach,” Col. Wrakonei said.
“We must all realise our individual roles and obligations in preparing for, reducing the risk of, responding to, and recovering from all disasters and emergencies. This is our opportunity to modernise our national law to ensure we are properly prepared to coordinate and manage future disasters it will face.”
(NDC staff and the Advisory Committee for reviewing the 1984 Disaster Management Act (credit: RHiggins/UNDP)