The National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), recently embarked on a new initiative in disaster risk management aimed at containing any disaster or emergency through proactive deployment of resources and personnel. Onyebuchi Ezigbo, who has followed the activities of the agency, writes on the need for the development of an early warning system and response mechanisms.
Over the years Nigerians have had to rely on share luck and providence to save them from disasters with little or no help coming from rescue agencies which lacks the capacity and wherewithal to intervene in such difficulty moments. Disasters derail socio-economic progress, and put millions of people into dire poverty or make the poor even poorer. The need to systematically reduce the increased impact of disaster is steadily gaining recognition and commitment of government’s world wide. Another reality that has equally come to the fore is the realisation that for Nigeria to effectively reduce the risk of disasters, she needs to incorporate her risk reduction policies into the national development effort.
It was in recognition of this obvious lapse that the authorities of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) embarked on the redesigning of the existing disaster management policy to include clear-cut roles for each of the collaborating stakeholders, federal government, states, and Local government areas.
The Director-General of NEMA, AVM Muhammed Audu-Bida said for the country to have an effective disaster management required “political and legal commitment, public understanding, scientific knowledge, careful development planning, responsible enforcement of policies and legislation, early warning systems and effective disaster preparedness and response mechanisms.”
Audu-Bida explained at the stakeholders’ workshop in Kaduna recently that the constraints NEMA face is getting the other relevant stakeholders to work in synergy with it. “NEMA does not have the manpower that quails disaster physically. We count on other agencies who are trained for different types of emergency situations to come in, like when there’s flooding, we expect the civil defence to come in to rescue people physically. When there’s building collapse, we don’t expect the civil defence to be there.
“When there’s fire incidence of course, we expect the fire fighters to be there. So these are the issues. We just coordinate their things. We don’t have the specialised personnel to handle some of these mishaps. The whole of NEMA staff is less than 300. We must partner with our stakeholders for them to respond to disasters promptly. The only way to achieve this is to come together and partner and work towards realising a common objective,” he said.
It was based on the understanding of the importance of forging a common front among the key stakeholders to as a key element in disaster risk management, that NEMA put together a capacity building workshop for top management officers across the ministries and parastatals involved in planning and implementing policies.
Audu-Bida said the objective was to raise the consciousness of the officers on the imperative for reducing risk, building resilience of communities and integrating disaster risk reduction into our national development plans. “Knowledge, technology, expertise, institutional capacities, management skills and practical experience of diverse players in the three tiers of government, non-governmental organisations, community-based organisations and faith-based organisations need to be developed and brought together to deliver effective and efficient disaster management service to the people particularly at the grassroots level,” the NEMA boss said.
The authorities of the agency have rolled-out a three-year action plan to train more than 154,800 volunteers on effective disaster response and control mechanisms. The agency said at the flag-off a 3-day sensitisation workshop on Disaster Risk Management for Public Officers in Kaduna that it plans to engage in the training and mobilisation of 154,800 volunteers as part of Federal Government’s new contingency plan to management disaster incident in the country. The agency said about 200 volunteers would be drawn from each of the 774 local government areas of the country and would be adequately trained and equipped with all the techniques and skills to ensure prompt and effective response action during disaster.
Audu-Bida whose speech at the workshop was delivered by the Director of Training, Dr. Zanna Muhammad said because of the seriousness Federal Government attached to effective disaster management in the country, NEMA also intends to partner with the lower tiers of government, as well as non-governmental bodies, community-based organisations and faith-based organisations in seeking to develop effective disaster response capability.
He lamented that disasters had 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 disasters caused by the combination of natural and man-made hazards, which constantly threatens people’s lives and means of livelihood.”
He added that disaster management requires not only emergency relief 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 emergency. While bemoaning the enormous loses that trail every disaster incident in the country in the past years, the D-G noted that time has come for policy makers to incorporate risk reduction policies into the national development effort.
“The need to systematically reduce the increase impact of disasters is steadily gaining recognition and commitment among governments worldwide. Government the world over has also come to realise the need to not only reduce the risk of disasters but to incorporate risk reduction policies into the national development effort,” he said. Audu-Bida said effort to tackle the country’s weak and ineffective response to disasters requires: “political and legal commitment, public understanding, scientific knowledge, careful development, planning responsible enforcement of policies and legislation, early warning systems and effective disaster preparedness and response mechanisms”. According to him, the reason behind the capacity workshop for senior public officers put together in collaboration with the Administrative Staff College of Nigerian (ASCON) was to help sensitise them on the imperative for mainstreaming disaster response mechanisms into the national development plans. Various resource persons that presented papers at the workshop identified several lapses inhibiting proper management of disaster in the country, to include poverty and ignorance, poor implementation of policies in the sector and lack of proper monitoring and evaluation of the eventual outcomes of government’s policy decisions aimed at addressing disasters.
The workshop under the theme, “Mainstreaming Disaster Management into National Development” drew resource persons from various sectors of the economy including top public officers, para-military, academics and representatives of the media. After exhaustive discussions of various presentations on the critical areas of intervention in disaster risk reduction in the country, participants observed that disasters, either natural or human-induced bring distortion into the development landscape.
Another issue of consensus was that occurrence of disasters and emergencies in Nigeria like in most countries have been on the increase in recent times, particularly due to communal conflicts, mechanical and technological malfunctions. Stakeholders regretted that natural resources which could be utilised for the benefits of human and physical development are either lost or misused while budgetary provisions and other resources that could be utilised for the benefits of human and physical development are deployed to address avoidable disaster due to communal clashes and epidemics. One major fall-out from the workshop is that while the number and gravity of disasters are on the increase locally and globally, the traditional strategies for disaster management through relief measures have become ineffective because they are largely reactive instead of being proactive in reducing the risk.
“Disasters that were not properly managed have contributed significantly to loss of skilled personnel, diversion of scarce resources, and destruction of infrastructure, negative investment climate and political destabilisation,” the agency boss said. In the same vein, it was the observed that the public, most especially the citizenry are not adequately informed and educated by the media and relevant information organs of government on potential areas of disasters, precautionary measures and expectations in case of disasters.
Based on the above observations, participants came up with the view that NEMA and other stakeholders in disaster management in the country should adopt new paradigm towards risk reduction aimed at pre-empting disaster and putting in place rehabilitation process that could rebuild resilience for future disaster.
For Nigeria to meet the desired expectations in the control and management of disaster, public policies in that direction should be coherent, trackable, transparent and implementable. Policy makers should focus on concepts and practices that promote social development, equity, economic growth and environmental quality to minimise the impacts of hazards, reduce vulnerability and enhance coping and adaptive capacity.
NEMA on the other hand should work in synergy with non-governmental organisations (NGOs), community based organisations (CBOs), faith based organisations (FBOs), private sector organisations (PSOs) and other stakeholders to reduce risks or mitigate the impacts. They should be able to pre-empt devastating disasters in the country. As a coordinating agency, NEMA should further strengthen the relationships with other stakeholders in disaster management such as the Armed Forces, Police, FRSC, NSCDC, Fire Services, environmental health officers through collaborative engagement and capacity building programmes.
In view of the fact that the media have active roles to play in creating public awareness on early warnings and proactive approach to curtail disaster, participants a t the workshop were of the opinion that they should be involved in processes and programmes to achieve maximum results.
Funding was seen as a major source of meeting target objectives and goals and as such, it was the general consensus that public awareness of disaster risk reduction should be adequately budgeted for by the government and donor agencies are made available for disaster management.
The guiding principles for Disaster Risk Reduction strategies in Nigeria should be initiated and implemented, especially in the areas of poverty reduction, disaster prevention, capacity building of communities, partnership with the other tiers of government, education to increase public awareness and establishment of information networks. The enabling legislation for disaster risk management in Nigeria, such as the NEMA establishment Act should be amended to strengthen coordination of disaster management in order to be more efficient and effective.
The new engagement in disaster management presupposes that states and local government councils across the country should take more proactive stance in the whole effort.They are to establish through enabling legislation, adequate and functional emergency outfits—sanitary inspectors—to address the humanitarian and sanitary needs of their people. Added to this is the need for Presidential directive to call out the Armed Forces at the Command or Unit Level for adequate and prompt response to disasters.
Other forms of interventions being proposed under the initiative include the provision of incentives to Disaster Reactive Units to enhance their state of readiness at all times, as well the training and retraining of emergency responders, especially simulation exercises should be organised by NEMA on regular basis to enhance their level of preparedness. Part of the recommendation of the workshop was that the media and Information Committee on Emergency Management (MICEM), which is a composition of relevant agencies, should be adequately funded to address emergency and where necessary organise monthly press conference to update Nigerians on development and strategies being deployed in disaster risk reduction.
Accordingly, the media is expected to be carried along, especially the specialized correspondents covering emergency and disaster issues to keep them updated on preventive and early warning strategies. Establishment of a forum of emergency correspondents and writers can be desirous, like other beat associations, in providing adequate, accurate and timely information to the public would be imperative.