Recently, the Director General of National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), Alhaji Muhammad Sani-Sidi while receiving international delegates on disasters relief and assistance, assured the country that his Agency along with various domestic and foreign groups are commitment towards confronting hazards associated with harmattan and dry seasons after the rainy days.

In February, 2011, during address at Government House, Kaduna to commensurate with people of the state upon both the fire incident of 20th December, 2010 at Sheik Abubakar Gummi Central Market and the Disastrous petrol tanker fire of Birni-Gwari town of Brinin Gwari Local Government Area which occurred on 6th February, 2011, Alhaji Sani-Sidi remarked: “Fire outbreak remained a major disaster in the country which swiftly causes incalculable losses directly and indirectly.”

His words: “Apart from the lives, monies wares, structure and other valuables consumed by the fire, there are social and psychological issues those affected continue to suffer, for quite a long time thereafter. Most disturbingly, market fires create and heighten unemployment thus sabotaging Government poverty alleviation programmes and schemes. As we all known, the incidence of fire and its intensity of damage and losses is more during harmattan season which falls between November and March of every year”.

It was in a bid to raise public consciousness and sensitisations on the need to avoid the incidence and reoccurrence of fire related disasters across the country, the Youths Against Disaster Initiative (YADI) has gone in collaboration with the Agency to activate early warning alerts against misuse of flammable items like matches, lights, stoves, electrical appliances and bush burning that could easily trigger fire in home, market, office and farms; and epidemic outbreaks during harmattan and dry season

Hitherto, the country has been faced with frequent fire accidents where hundreds of live and properties worth billions of naira are reportedly lost annually. Such is the fate of about 65 shanties which were gutted by fire in Ebutte Meta, Lagos state in the year 2011; followed by the Keffi Central Market in Nassarawa state where the fire accident consumed a billion of naira commodities in the same year. All remain devastating socio-economic and psychological damage to the victims.

Apart from above, harmattan is globally known to be prone to fire and diseases outbreaks. For instance, in an estimate of 7129 fire accidents, about 990 lives are reportedly lost in the country annually. In 2008, the statistical analysis of the United State Fire Administration (USFA) revealed about 3,320 deaths and 17, 000 related injuries to have resulted from series of fire accidents. Also, the death associate with fire accidents result not only from burns, but also from smoke inhalation and toxic gases as it did to Nandnagari community of Eastern Delhi and Nigerians victims of fire mishap in Saudi Arabia in November 2011.

It is noteworthy that a recent study conducted by YADI in teamwork with NEMA and Federal Fire Service to understand the causes of fire outbreaks in various parts of the country shows that the fire disasters emanate from accidents and carelessness, electrical outlets, faulty wiring, electrical appliances, heating gadgets, unattended stove and gases, children’s attitudes towards flammable materials, among others.

On their note, they recommended several useful guides to prevent individuals from fire disasters in the country. Just as individuals are advised to avoid smoking in bed and properly douse their cigarettes in water before disposal to avoid re-ignition. They emphasised the fact that smoking is one of the common causes of fire outbreaks in homes, offices including public domains; as experiences have disastrous fire occurrences to have resulted from re-ignited discard cigarettes that were not properly extinguished.

Effective individual alertness, volunteer system and activation of automatic fire detection systems are very crucial step to aid early detection of fire. Put in place a smoke detector is an effective way to combat fire disasters. A smoke detector is a device that detects smoke, typically as an indicator of fire.

Mass residential devices can be installed in industry, commercial complexes to issue a signal to a fire alarm system; while in homes, household detectors such as smoke alarms can be installed to generally issue a local audible and visual alarm on anticipated fire.

Kitchen is another environment known to be more prone to fire outbreak. It is recommended that cooking pots and pans should never be left unattended even for a short while. Several fire incidents in homes have been attributed to people who vacated the kitchen when cooking. Ensure that the gas tank, ovens, and stoves are shut off to avoid leakage of flammables and food burning. Also, in the kitchen, it would be wise to avoid wearing loose clothes that easily catch fire.

Never leave burning candles unattended, and avoid placing them near flammables like air vent, plastic, carpet or windows where they can be knocked down by wind. Keep candles, matches, lighters and other flammable materials out of children’s reach.

A study conducted by United States Burn Awareness Coalition revealed that matches and lighters in hands of children have resulted to burns which constitute the major cause of accidental deaths in children under the age of two; while fire and burn injuries are the second leading cause of accidental deaths among children between age 1 to 4 years, and the third leading cause of injury and death between age 1 to 18 years.

Electrical appliances are another cause of fire outbreaks. Remember to turn off and unplug your electrical appliance after use; and avoid placing them near sources of heating like the store, fire place, or furnace. In 2011, an Indian safety expert, Srinivas Katta identified such electrical conditions that can be fire hazardous to include damaged electrical conductors, overloaded sockets and extension cords, faulty wirings, blown fuses, low quality electrical equipment, malfunctioned electrical devices, and loose electrical connections.

Install at the strategic places, standardized fire extinguishers. Avoid using wrong fire extinguishers; and learn how to use it. Mostly, fires are extinguished by water or sand. Special foam chemicals are used in case of oil fire; electric fires are extinguished by switching off electricity and using carbon-di-oxide to extinguish the fire. Forest fires can be extinguished by beating the burning bushes using handtools and by cutting a strip through forest to prevent fire from spreading.

Furthermore, create an effective fire escape route; and teach your family how to use this in case of emergency. This is because if a fire breaks out, it is very easy to become disoriented by smoke, flames and darkness; while If you and your family have planned and practiced your escape route, you will be better prepared ahead of a situation when you have to escape a fire in your home. This should be designed in such a way that any person confronted by fire anywhere in the building can turn away from it and escape to a place totally safe from the building.

There is urgent need for the government of Nigeria, like those of other parts of the world to step up its quest towards ensuring vivacious health care system in the country giving the fact there has been palpable increase in the statistics of outbreaks of diseases, which has resulted in several deaths annually. In recent times, many Nigerian communities are conversant with diseases such as cholera, meningitis, and polio.

It was also learnt that about 25 people were hospitalised in Kwara state as a result of cholera outbreak in July 2011; while no fewer than 194 people were confirmed infected by cholera in Jigawa state.

Owing to several failed attempts tem the high rate endemic diseases in the country, the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) recently sought collaboration with the World Health Organisation (WHO) and Nigerian Medical Associations (NMA) on the need to help in prevention of outbreaks as well as the provision of adequate and quick response to the victims through public health education and enlightenment particularly in the states and grassroots level throughout the six geo-political in the country.

Consequent upon that, NEMA has through its numerous enlightenment campaigns advised on the need for individuals to keep the environment clean. It also accentuated the importance of maintaining germ-free atmosphere as capable reducing widespread social related diseases.

For example, in the opinion of the United States Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP), it was resolved that since influenza spreads through both aerosols and contact with contaminated surfaces, sanitizing may help prevent some infections. In this case, hygiene would refer to the set of standard practices that prevent spread of disease-causing organism. A hygienic environment can be achieved individuals practice body hygiene, sleep hygiene, personal hygiene, mental hygiene, and dental hygiene in their daily life.

The International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health has recognised three different types of hygiene for safety living; the body hygiene which includes constant cleanness for healthy living, optimal health, sense of well-being, social acceptance, and prevention of spread of illness; while individual personal hygiene practices must comprise adequate medical checkup, regular washing, bathing, and healthy living. Thus, adequate consultation of the nearest medical centre for professional advice would be a vital step combating a disease outbreak.

Another method of enhancing pandemics, according to the medical practitioners across the world, is that an infected person be isolated to prevent contagious diseases from being spread among other patients, health care workers, and visitors.

They also encourage the use of quaternary ammonium compounds and bleach in hospitals so as to sanitize equipment that have been occupied by patient with influenza symptom; while at home this can be done effectively with a diluted chlorine bleach. This practice can help prevent spread of these diseases among others.

In recent studies conducted by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), it was discovered that regular hand-washing practices with soap after defecating and before eating or preparing food have helped to reduce the incidence of diarrhea by almost 50% which is the second leading cause of death among children under 5 years old, in parts of the world. The practices have also reduced to the barest minimum, the incidence of other diseases; notably pneumonia, trachoma, skin and eyes infections, Cholera and dysentery among.

Apart from this, the United States Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP) has recommended good personal health and good hygiene such as avoid regular touching of eyes, nose or mouth; frequent hand-washing with soap and water; covering coughs and sneezes; avoiding contact with sick people; shunning smoking; and staying at home during sickness among others, are the effective ways to reducing transmission of influenza.

Awareness is an important factor that every individual must embrace to avoid being a victim of epidemic outbreaks. In respect of this, NEMA, in collaboration with stakeholders has instituted alert on various epidemic outbreaks. The Agency has achieved this objective by initiating a sensitization campaign through the massive use of mass media across the six geo-political zones and direct contacts with the grassroots in the country.

Furthermore, in epidemic outbreak, there is a need to maintain a restriction to non-essential gathering of people with the mixing of bodies and sharing of breath in crowded rooms; in meetings, in saloons, dance halls, and cinemas, public funerals, unnecessary assemblies; and encourage staggering of opening and closing hours in stores and factories to prevent overcrowding and for people to walk to work when possible.

Abubakar Jimoh is the National Coordinator, Youths Against Disaster Initiative (YADI).