Fourteenth Five-Year Plan may encourage more engagement of charities in emergency relief

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Last month, four years after the PRC’s Charity Law came into effect, a report on the law’s implementation was submitted to the National People’s Congress. The report pointed out that the Covid-19 pandemic has revealed certain problems in the coordination mechanism for emergency responses, particularly regarding collaboration between government bodies and charitable organisations.

The report proposes amendments to the Law on Emergency Responses so that the emergency response mechanism of the charity sector can be improved; nationally, public involvement in emergency responses should be endorsed, and each individual and organisation’s legal status, responsibilities and protection should be confirmed by the law.

On the 3rd of November, the Proposal of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party on Formulating the Fourteenth Five-Year Plan for National Economic and Social Development and the Long-term Goals for 2035 was published. In the document, it is highlighted that one of the main goals for China’s next five year plan is “significantly enhancing capabilities to respond to public emergencies and prevent and mitigate natural disasters.” This indicates that the government may consider the charity sector as a more important actor in the future emergency responses mechanism. But is this prediction accurate? If so, how can this goal be realised? Writing in the Charity Times, Wang Yong tried to gather some evidence to answer these questions.

Chapter 72 of article four in the thirteenth Five-Year Plan, published in 2016, stressed that from 2016 to 2020 an emergency response system would be established that was compatible with public safety risks, covered the entire emergency management process and received the participation of the whole of society. As the thirteenth Five-Year Plan approached its last year, an unprecedented coronavirus pandemic became an actual test for the system’s effectiveness.

As Wang Yong claims, the results suggest that the coordination between government bodies and charitable organisations to deal with emergencies is unproductive. Reasons include insufficient regulations and existing rules that don’t match the reality. For example, even though the National Emergency Plan for Natural Disaster Relief clearly stresses the importance of developing the role of charitable organisations in relief efforts for natural disasters, the detailed rules are rather rigid and impractical. Another document, the National Emergency Plan for Public Health Emergencies, does not even include any content regarding charitable organisations’ engagement in relief actions.

In the proposal for the next Five-Year Plan, it is said that the economic and social development goals must entail increased abilities to mitigate the consequences of emergency public events and natural disasters. In particular, the proposal suggests to advance the monitoring mechanism for public health emergencies, improve the quality of medical treatment, accelerate technical support and enhance material guarantee systems. Moreover charitable organisations, social work practitioners and volunteers should be encouraged to participate in social governance. In terms of action at the national level, the national emergency management system needs to be improved to ensure the functioning of the emergency material guarantee system. Catastrophe insurance should be developed so that the capabilities to mitigate, prevent and combat disasters are increased.

Wang Yong is confident that there is good hope for all these goals to be achieved, because the relevant plans and laws are already on the way to being published. The most prominent example is the amendment of the Law on Emergency Response, a law which initially came into effect in 2007. The National People’s Congress (NPC) begun to amend the law in the first half of 2020. In the first meeting of the law amendment group in April, Zhang Chunxian, the Vice Chairman of the Standing Committee of the NPC maintained that the focus of this amendment had to be on the law’s integrity, practicability, and compatibility with the actual situation. At the moment the group has completed the draft of the amendment, and it is going to submit it to the Standing Committee of the NPC for deliberation in December.

Wang Yong concludes by saying that the involvement of charitable organisations in emergency response demands the guidance that comes from comprehensive principles and clear rules, however making effective laws is only the first step. Whether the fourteenth Five-Year Plan will become the turning point for Chinese charitable organisations depends on the follow-up actions of the government. Meanwhile, charitable organisations need to be equipped with the necessary skills to engage with emergencies and disaster relief. Their operational strategies may also need to go through reform to react to upcoming challenges and opportunities.