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State plans law on disasters

Cambodia is set to adopt a law on disaster management, after Typhoon Ketsana caused nearly US$200 million in damage last year and the Diamond Island bridge stampede killed 353 people last month.

Nhim Vanda, vice president of the National Committee for Disaster Management, said the law had been in the works for more than a year and had not been prompted by any particular event.

“There is no specific case that made us draft this law, but Cambodia needs it in order to work smoothly to save people during disasters,” he said.

A copy of the draft law dated September 27 calls for all government ministries and offices to set up disaster management working groups and response plans. Officials at the province, district and commune levels are asked to do the same, though Nhim Vanda said such plans were already in place.

The law also stipulates punishments for individuals and government officials deemed to be responsible for disasters, whether “through negligence or direct or indirect acts”, who face between two and 10 years in prison.

This provision builds on a 1988 decree on contracts and liabilities that states that individuals or institutions shall be “liable in compensation … even where the damage is caused by involuntary acts such as carelessness or negligence”.

A draft version of the pending Civil Code, the law for the implementation of which was approved by the Council of Ministers last month, includes provisions relating to negligence claims against both private and public officials.

The government has stated, however, that no officials will be held to account for the stampede tragedy at the Kingdom’s annual Water Festival last month, an event Prime Minister Hun Sen has admitted was mishandled by the government.

“Our biggest mistake is that we wrongly evaluated the situation,” he said in November. “It was unexpected and [we were] careless ... and did not prepare any protection measures in advance.”

Cheam Yeap, chairman of the Banking and Finance committee in the National Assembly, said the government had a $250 million reserve budget that could be deployed in case of disasters.

The government will hold a consultative meeting on the law next week and subsequently make amendments to it before forwarding it to the Council of Ministers, Nhim Vanda said.



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