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Chapter 11.1 Policy, regulation, accountability and advocacy

Policies and regulations

Photo: Bob McMillan / FEMA Photo 15440

[:en]An appropriate policy, regulatory and implementation structure is an essential part of disaster risk management: one of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction’s four priorities is ‘Strengthening disaster risk governance to manage disaster risk’.+See This ‘enabling environment’ is primarily a government responsibility, because governments are ultimately responsible for public safety and have the mandate, resources and capacity to create such an environment and to undertake or stimulate large-scale DRR initiatives, but citizens and civil society organisations can do much to influence it.

Every country should have an appropriate national policy, a strategy for attaining policy goals, a legislative framework (creating the necessary administrative structures and financial instruments, and setting relevant laws and regulations), and administrative structures and systems with the human, technical and financial capacity to implement the disaster management strategy, at all levels of government (see Box 11.1: Key features of DRR governance).

Box 11.1 Key features of DRR governance

DRR policy, planning, priorities and political commitment:

  • Political consensus on the importance of DRR
  • DRR a policy priority at all levels of government
  • National DRR policy, strategy and implementation plan, with clear vision, priorities, targets and benchmarks
  • Local government DRR policies, strategies and implementation plans in place
  • Official (national and local) policy and strategy of support to community-based disaster risk management (CBDRM)
  • Local-level official understanding of, and support for, community vision

Legal and regulatory systems:

  • Relevant and enabling legislation, regulations, codes, etc., addressing and supporting DRR, at national and local levels
  • Jurisdictions and responsibilities for DRR at all levels defined in legislation, regulations, by-laws, etc.
  • Mechanisms for compliance and enforcement of laws, regulations, codes, etc., and penalties for non-compliance defined in laws and regulations
  • Legal and regulatory system underpinned by guarantees of relevant rights: to safety, to equitable assistance, to be listened to and consulted
  • Land-use regulations, building codes and other laws and regulations relating to DRR enforced locally

Integration with development policies and planning:

  • Government (all levels) takes a holistic and integrated approach to DRR, located within wider development context and linked to development planning across different sectors
  • DRR incorporated into or linked to other national development plans and donor-supported country programmes+Poverty Reduction Strategies, national Millennium Development Goal reports, National Adaptation Plans of Action, UNDP assistance frameworks, etc.
  • Routine integration of DRR into development planning and sectoral policies (poverty eradication, social protection, sustainable development, climate change adaptation, desertification, natural resource management, health, education, etc.).
  • Formal development planning and implementation processes required to incorporate DRR elements (e.g. hazard, vulnerability and risk analysis, mitigation plans)
  • Multi-sectoral institutional platforms for promoting DRR
  • Local planning policies, regulations and decision-making systems take disaster risk into account

Integration with emergency response and recovery:

  • National policy framework requires DRR to be incorporated into design and implementation of disaster response and recovery
  • Policy, planning and operational links between emergency management, DRR and development structures
  • Risk reduction incorporated into official (and internationally supported and implemented) post-disaster reconstruction plans and actions

Institutional mechanisms, capacities and structures; allocation of responsibilities:

  • Supportive political, administrative and financial environment for CBDRM and community-based development
  • Institutional mandates and responsibilities for DRR clearly defined. Inter-institutional or coordinating mechanisms exist, with clearly designated responsibilities
  • Focal point at national level with authority and resources to coordinate all related bodies involved in disaster management and DRR
  • Human, technical, material and financial resources for DRR adequate to meet defined institutional roles and responsibilities (including budgetary allocation specifically to DRR at national and local levels)
  • Devolution of responsibility (and resources) for DRR planning and implementation to local government levels and communities, as far as possible, backed up by provision of specialist expertise and resources to support local decision-making, planning and management of disasters
  • Committed and effective community outreach services (DRR and related services, e.g. healthcare)


  • DRR identified as responsibility of all sectors of society (public, private, civil), with appropriate inter-sectoral and coordinating mechanisms
  • Long-term civil society, NGO, private sector and community participation and inter-sectoral partnerships for DRR and emergency response
  • Links with regional and global institutions and their DRR initiatives

Accountability and community participation:

  • Basic rights of people formally recognised by national and local government (and civil society organisations): to safety, to equitable vulnerability reduction and relief assistance, to be listened to and consulted (implies responsibility to guarantee these rights where appropriate)
  • Effective quality control or audit mechanisms for official structures, systems, etc., in place and applied
  • Democratic system of governance enabling society to hold decision-makers to account
  • Government consults civil society, NGOs, private sector and communities
  • Popular participation in policy development and implementation; political space and mechanisms allowing citizens to contribute to decision-making
  • Citizen demands for action to reduce disaster risk
  • Existence of ‘watchdog’ groups to press for change
Adapted from J. Twigg, Characteristics of a Disaster-Resilient Community: A Guidance Note (London: DRR Interagency Coordination Group, 2009),, pp. 29–31.

There are many different ways of reducing risk through policies and regulations, and DRR structures and systems can be built up incrementally. A large number of countries around the world have revised their disaster management policies, laws and administrative structures in recent years to incorporate new thinking on vulnerability, communities, DRR and resilience. These changes do not take place overnight: in post-apartheid South Africa, for example, the mainstreaming process of stakeholder discussion, policy and legislative development and establishing and financing national structures for implementation took 11 years (1994–2005), and considerable effort was required to maintain the momentum for reform.+M. Pelling and A. Holloway, Legislation for Mainstreaming Disaster Risk Reduction (Teddington: Tearfund, 2006),

Within the overall DRR structure, a variety of policies, regulations and procedures can be used to address particular kinds of risk and hazard. They include:

  • Engineering and construction measures. These comprise design standards, building codes and performance specifications. They ensure that engineered structures can stand up to particular hazards and forces.
  • Legal measures. In addition to formal disaster management legislation, the law can be used in many other ways to provide appropriate penalties and incentives. For instance, enforcement of engineering standards, health and safety regulations or environmental protection will be weak if there is no adequate legal back-up that authorises penalties for non-compliance. Legalisation of land or property ownership, and laws protecting tenants’ rights, are good examples of legal incentives. By giving greater security, they encourage people to invest more in protecting their property (e.g. by strengthening houses or improving drainage systems). Laws can also define rights to protection and post-disaster assistance.
  • Planning regulations. These can be used to prevent the use of hazardous areas (such as flood plains or unstable hillsides) for housing or commercial development, and to keep hazardous industrial activities away from population centres. Many urban plans involve land zoning of this kind. Planning should also ensure that public facilities (hospitals, emergency services, schools, water and power supplies, telephone exchanges, transport infrastructure) are kept away from hazardous zones as far as possible, and that they are not over-concentrated in a few places. For the same reason, regulations may restrict population density in a given area. Ensuring escape and access routes, creation of open spaces as areas of refuge, separation of buildings to reduce fire risk and creation of green or wooded areas to assist drainage are among other risk-reducing measures governed by planning regulations.
  • Financial and economic measures. Financial incentives such as the provision of grants, ‘soft’ loans or tax breaks to companies, communities and individuals can be used to encourage investment in safer construction and mitigation measures, including location in safer areas. Alternatively, financial penalties – fines and taxes – may be used to discourage bad practice. Chapter 12 describes the economic and financial mechanisms that non-governmental agencies can deploy. One of the most valuable measures that can be taken is economic diversification. This reduces risks to the economy as a whole by reducing over-reliance on sectors that may be particularly vulnerable to certain hazards.

Other sectoral policies and laws may contribute to DRR, for example in agriculture, forestry or water resource management. Integration of DRR with other sectors is essential.

Every approach to DRR and its different components presents its own practical problems, but there are also basic challenges to making policy and regulatory mechanisms effective. One is institutional capacity. The methods described above add up to a comprehensive package of risk-reducing measures. Extensive political and legislative skills may be needed to deal with powerful groups whose interests may be affected, and to design effective laws and regulations. Government capacity to implement these laws, regulations and measures will have to be built up, particularly that of local governments, which play a major role in implementation and enforcement. To put such a package in place requires a lot of time – perhaps decades – and it will need refining frequently in the light of experience. This is a major challenge for any government.

Another challenge is enforcement. Laws and regulations are useless if they are not enforced. For example, engineers and builders must be aware of building codes and design standards, understand them, know how to use them and accept their importance. For this to happen, awareness-raising and further professional training may be needed, and there must be a sufficient number of trained officials to ensure that the codes and standards are adopted. Formal implementation and oversight systems need to be reliable, trustworthy and free from corruption. Society’s cultures and values may also need to shift towards recognition of the need for safety and protection standards.[:]