IT is widely agreed that disaster is a serious disruption of the functionary of a society causing wide-spread human, material or environmental losses which exceed the ability of the affected society to cope using only its own resources as well as any event or circumstances.
Most disasters happen without prior knowledge or warning which cause or threaten injury, disruption of the community, damage to property and lead to death. Unfortunately, on several occasions, the environment, so affected in large scale, cannot be handled by the emergency services and local authorities.
Disasters in Nigeria have often been attended and managed through fire-brigade-approach and as such, to tackle such emergencies require comprehensive, holistic strategies at local and national levels.
It is obvious that certain previous disasters witnessed in the country have shown lack of proactive policies and programmes to prevent reoccurrence. Usually the response to disaster has been that of crises management. A national disaster management policy is therefore, needed to define roles of relevant agencies, stakeholders, funding, partnership among other undertakings.
Recently at a sensitisation workshop on disaster management organised by the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) with the theme: “Mainstreaming Disaster Management into National Development,” the Director-General of the agency, AVM Mohammed Audu-Bida (rtd.) stated that disaster has derailed socio-economic progress and had put millions of people into abject poverty and made the poor even poorer. According to him: “The world is witnessing an increasing impact of disaster caused by the combination of natural and man-made hazards which constantly threaten people’s lives and means of livelihood.”
He added that disaster management requires not only emergency reliefs but political and legal commitment, public understanding, scientific knowledge, careful development planning, responsible enforcement of policies which should be responsive and proactive for the effective management of any untoward event.
It could be recalled that in the recent past, especially before the establishment of the disaster agency, some ecological problems such as drought, flood, landslide, erosion have been managed in an uncoordinated manner which made many victims homeless and helpless. Experience has shown that disasters had been managed without making use of adequate data and knowledge related to management and impacts. For instance, information on the vulnerable people (in terms of nutrition) during drought periods has been lacking and this has created difficulties when trying to identify and target those who need relief, especially the rural poor. Likewise vulnerability risk assessment is not being effectively carried out and causes of vulnerability cannot be traced when there are no relevant data.
From personal observation one can easily say that there is little or no effective coordination between governmental and non-governmental sectors in disaster management in Nigeria. Too much is expected from government, especially from NEMA which has little resources at its disposal.
It is gratifying to note the introduction of volunteers groups like members of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) and local people at the grassroots in managing disaster in Nigeria. The concept of this innovative volunteerism will go a long way in addressing emergency needs at crisis situations even when the relevant agency are far away from the spot like the incident of a plane crash in the forest.
Both states and local government areas should be sensitised and made to come together to fight the scourge right from the grassroots level and by so doing introduce it in various institutions through disaster risk reduction and improving existing capacity of state and local governments.
With the new thinking of a proactive approach, training and retraining of emergency responders, volunteers, especially simulation exercise should be encouraged and promoted on regular basis to enhance the level of preparedness of everyone. The areas of concern in the sensitisation programme should include development planning, prevention, mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery.
The media as the mirror of the society should also be in the forefront of the campaign towards public safety consciousness and preventive tips, especially on fire outbreaks and road accidents. The public must be adequately informed and educated on potential areas of disaster while precautionary measures and expectation in case of disaster are highlighted.
It is necessary to call on NEMA and other stakeholders in disaster management in the country to adopt a new paradigm towards risk reduction aimed at pre-empting disaster and putting in place rehabilitation process that could rebuild resilience against future disaster. Policy-makers should also focus on concepts and practices that promote social development and equity to minimise the impacts of hazards, reduce vulnerability and enhance coping and adaptive capacity.
Ms. Ovosi, a Youth Corps member, writes from Abuja.