International Law and Standards Applicable in Natural Disaster Situations

Natural disasters strike with alarming regularity, taking away lives, homes, businesses and schools, and the destabilizing effect on the social fabric of communities is instant and profound. The immediate priorities must be to save lives, bring medical assistance to the injured and ill, provide temporary shelter and rush clean water and food to the displaced. Domestic and international humanitarian aid groups perform these tasks with admirable determination and speed.

After people’s basic needs are met, the priorities shift quickly to recovery. Establishing conditions that restore the dignity of the victims and protect their rights is vital, but more needs to be done in this area. While working in Aceh after the tsunami disaster, IDLO and other organizations saw firsthand how the lack of a legal and human rights framework led to lingering disenfranchisement of people, preventing a return to their normal lives.

This Manual will stimulate thought and action on this issue. While a substantial body of relevant law exists, the law is only effective if disaster recovery planners and the people working in the field know and understand it. By building legal protections into preparedness and response planning, we can shorten the recovery timetable and restore order more quickly and effectively. At the same time, this process will help us uncover and address systemic injustices that cause continuing poverty and social unrest