By Andy McElroy
Abuja - The Nigerian government has requested the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) to facilitate the development of a comprehensive disaster risk management plan for Africa’s most populous country.
The agreement to move beyond a predominantly response-focused approach to disaster planning came after wide ranging discussions between Nigerian Vice President Namadi Sambo and the head of UNISDR Margareta Wahlström in Abuja.
Vice President Sambo summed up the philosophy that would guide his government’s approach when he told Ms Wahlström: 'It is time to come back to what the wise man said, prevention is better than cure.’
The strengthening of Nigeria’s National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) was a top agenda item and Ms Wahlström said UNISDR would support NEMA’s efforts to complement its response capacity with more advocacy of disaster risk reduction, stronger local and state capacity and more proactive coordination of various actors.
‘Nigeria is already convinced that disasters are a development concern and it is increasingly aware of the impact of climate change so it is very encouraging to see the strong political commitment to strengthen disaster risk reduction as integral for protecting development gains,’ Ms Wahlström said.
‘It is impressive how key government ministries are really focused on strengthening Nigeria’s resilience and preparedness for disasters and climate change.
‘The recent floods have had a huge impact on public and official perception of disasters. It is the first time that Nigeria talks about the financial impact of disasters on the state and the people.
‘It is encouraging to see this deeper interest in the triggers of disaster and it’s important that we make progress because building a safer and more resilient country will be a long and challenging road. The need for good early warning systems is especially important.’
Other important outcomes from the talks included the organization of a national discussion to strengthen public-private partnership so that business can be an increasingly central actor in reducing disaster risk.
The Vice President and Ms Wahlström also agreed on the need to address the impact of disasters on children’s education in Nigeria. Many children directly affected by disaster are unable to attend school and in addition several schools are used for months at a time as centres for disaster displaced people, which means teaching cannot take place.
The Vice President also urged that the growing issue of armed conflict over resources, such as grazing land and water, between various groups, such as pastoralists and farmers, be a key part of the post-2015 replacement of the current Hyogo Framework for Action on Disaster Risk Reduction.
Nigeria has suffered repeated floods in many of its cities and continues to endure an ongoing drought in the north of the country.
The need for prompt action to reduce disaster risk was highlighted in a World Bank report, ‘Toward Climate-Resilient Development’, released this week in collaboration with the Federal Government. The report made ten practical recommendations for Nigeria to grow its economy and its resilience but warned of the consequences if concerted action was not taken.
Commenting on the report, Nigeria’s Coordinating Minister for the Economy and Federal Minister of Finance Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said: ‘The 2012 floods in Nigeria were a stark reminder of the vulnerability of our communities, infrastructure and economy to climate-induced natural disasters.’
Nine of Nigeria’s 36 states in the Sahelian northern part of the country are currently severely affected by drought. The Ministry of Finance estimated that the 2012 floods reduced GDP by 0.36 per cent. At the time, the Guardian Nigeria newspaper reported: ‘Lagosians gasp for breath as flood ravages city’.
UNISDR’s recently-released 2013 ‘Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction’ said the floods from 2011 resulted in the highest claim settlement in the history of the Nigerian insurance industry.
The report focused on the port of Lagos, the country’s biggest urban area and Africa’s second fastest growing city, and said that the state government faced huge costs from corrective mitigation measures as a result of uncontrolled urban development that has generated increased risk.
About 70 per cent of Lagos’ population lives in informal, poorly regulated settlements. ‘While sound urban development policies exist, implementation of building and safety codes remains marred by corruption and limited capacity,’ The Global Assessment Report says.
‘About 80 per cent of artisans engaged in the construction industry are either unskilled or uncertified owing to an absence of standardized training.’