IN the twilight of December 2004, the world was thrown into deep mourning following the Tsunami that hit the coast of Indian Ocean in South East Asia . The disaster caused heavy loss of lives and property. The countries hit by the huge ocean surge also suffered environmental calamity. Its impacts were felt throughout the world.
Though the Tsunami occurred almost unexpectedly, its consequences awakened many countries that now pay more attention to issues of disaster management.
From then, many national governments have gradually recognized in their development plans, the need to pre-empt and prepare ahead of disasters. The recent increase in the frequency and gravity of disasters brings to the fore imperatives of mainstreaming disaster management into national development plans.
The developmental plan of a nation sets out its priorities and assigns responsibilities and targets to be achieved within a given circumstance. Such plans as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) subscribed to by comity of nations and the Seven-Point Agenda of President Umaru Musa Yar ‘Adua. The plans usually cut across every facet of a nation with more attention given to areas of priorities driven by policy formulation and implementation. In the face of the increasing risks of disasters, proactive measures in the national developmental plans are indispensable.
The National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), in pursuance of the need to foster greater awareness on the mainstreaming of disaster management into the national development plans, recently embarked on sensitization campaigns on proactive measures to avert emergency situations. At the workshop held in Kaduna for top public officers from the armed forces, police, paramilitary, civil servants and the media, Director-General of the agency AVM Mohammed Audu-Bida (rtd) said governments the world over have come to realise the need to not only reduce the risk of disasters but also incorporate risk reduction policies into national development efforts.
This, according to him, has been necessitated by the rapidly increasing impacts of disasters caused by the combination of natural hazards and vulnerability, which constantly threatens people’s lives and livelihoods. Disasters derail socio-economic progress and put millions of people into dire poverty and/or the poor even poorer. A single disaster could wipe away many years of developmental efforts that fails to appreciate the inclusion of measures for prevention, mitigation, response and recovery embedded in disaster management.
As remedy, the Director, Planning, Research and Forecasting of NEMA, Dr. Charles Agbo said there was need for “political and legal commitment, public understanding, scientific knowledge, careful development planning, response enforcement of policies and legislation, early warning systems, and effective disaster preparedness and response mechanisms.”
Disaster management issues are multi-facet, cutting across many areas of national development. Reasonable numbers of disasters that occur in Nigeria are related to environment and ecology. These include flood and erosion.
Developmental plans on the environment must take cognizance of the related disasters and provide for the remedy. Government policy on land use and management must be ecologically friendly just as erosion control must be taken seriously in the deployment of resources.
Deforestation and desertification that continue to expose the land to the risk of disasters must be addressed through enabling legislation and enforcement mechanism. Global warming is here as a result of the depletion of the ozone layer caused by overdependence on hydrocarbon resources. Improved and stable power supply from the national grid could reduce the heavy usage of power generators in public and private places and contribute toward the restoration of the ozone layer.
Disaster management issues in housing relate to town planning and the quality of houses among others. Firm regulation against location of settlements on the flood plains must be enforced. To check frequent collapse of buildings, approval must be given to all plans with qualified professionals to carry out the building based on approved national standards. The problems of inferno in market places require strict safety regulation and so with domestic fires, the people should be trained on fire safety in the homes.
Transport-related disasters are common phenomena in developing countries like Nigeria. There is need for government policy to improve on the quality of roads, bridges and vehicles as well as traffic regulation and enforcement. Old bridges need routine maintenance with new ones constructed to cater for the increasing traffic.
Railways as alternative means of mass transportation deserve no less attention. The rail system needs to be revived and more towns linked with the use of comfortable cabins and haulage coaches. The air and water transportation subsectors require enabling policies for more qualified personnel, safer planes and vessels, use of modern navigational facilities, special search and rescue equipment and security.
Epidemics prevention and control are health issues that deserve special attention. Many communities suffer epidemics which are under reported or never reported at all. There must be deliberate policy that increases the number of qualified medical personnel and medical facilities including the supply of drugs in the communities. Maternal and infant mortality and morbidity which are silent disasters also deserve more attention.
Most Nigerians are engaged in agriculture and agro-allied activities, majority as peasants and few in commercial scale. Therefore, any little disruption in the sector could be disastrous. Qualitative and quantitative agricultural inputs must be made available at the proper time and farming activities improved to mechanized techniques. The quality of feeding of the people must be improved to check malnutrition which also is a form of disaster.
The National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), established by an Act of the National Assembly, is the apex body for disaster management, coordinating other relevant stakeholders and organisations involved as well as carrying out the government’s policy on disaster and emergency as contained in the establishment Act. How well the agency has faired depends on a number of factors. Being a coordination agency, there is the need for legislative empowerment to call out the stakeholders and ensure their compliance.
It alsorequires the necessary political support to achieve the new paradigm shift to Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) strategies adopted for more involving and proactive measures to disaster management. The agency also need to be adequately funded and equipped with modern search and rescue paraphernalia, efficient communication gadgets and reliable transport facilities.
The staffs need to be properly trained locally and abroad on regularly basis to be updated on the operation of the equipment and new technologies in disaster management. Remuneration and staff welfare is another key factor in the motivation of the personnel. To be a good disaster manager, a living wage and appropriate compensation package are non-negotiable. One of the problems that hinder continuity is frequent changes in leadership.
A disaster management agency like NEMA should have stable leadership devoid of frequent changing of the chief executive officer and management. The state and local governments under Nigeria’s federal structure are expected to establish their own functional emergency management agencies to complement the Federal Government in catering for such disasters within the limit of their resources. Unfortunately, from all indications, only few have done so, mostly in name.
It wouldn’t be out of place to say that the major organizations in Nigeria engaged in emergency management, especially the coordinating body, NEMA must be given the proper attention.
•Mr. Ezekiel is a Press Officer, NEMA, Abuja.