Table of Contents

Research Handbook on Disasters and International Law

Research Handbook on Disasters and International Law

Research Handbooks in International Law series

Edited by Susan C. Breau and Katja L.H. Samuel

International law’s role in governing disasters is undergoing a formative period in its development and reach, in parallel with concerted efforts by the international community to respond more effectively to the increasing number and intensity of disasters across the world. This Research Handbook examines a broad range of legal regimes directly and indirectly relevant to disaster prevention, mitigation and reconstruction across a spectrum of natural and manmade disasters, including armed conflict.

Chapter 20: National contingency planning

Simon Whitbourn

Subjects: environment, disasters, environmental governance and regulation, environmental law, law - academic, environmental law, law and development, public international law, politics and public policy, environmental governance and regulation


This chapter examines the obligations upon states to ensure effective and comprehensive national contingency planning. It first considers the meaning of ‘national contingency planning’, explains its evolution through domestic law and draws on examples from national legislation to help identify the key elements of an effective national contingency planning framework. The chapter then explores existing international law obligations on states to plan for disasters, primarily found in a few multilateral, hazard-specific conventions and regional agreements, before considering recent developments – derived from human rights case law, declarations of international conferences and the work of the International Law Commission – which point towards the imposition of specific obligations to plan effectively for disaster. It argues that despite these developments gaps remain and that, without greater recognition at the international level of the importance of effective national contingency planning laws, the work to improve other aspects of disaster risk management could ultimately be wasted.

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