BY: ABUBAKAR JIMOH
“We hope! We hope that there will be a better mobilization of interventions to prevent rather than having to respond. In too many places we find ourselves involved in humanitarian response that could have been prevented. So there has to be more focus on development and helping people to cope, survive and build their lives and their livelihoods, rather than allowing them to become so fragile that any shock causes them to become dependent on aid”, says the Operations Director of United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), John Ging in a recent interview.

Over the years, disaster management in Nigeria has been perceived by many as mainly humanitarian relief supplies with huge funds expended annually on perennial emergencies making the some state governments to pay little or no attention to the key phases of disaster management—preparedness and preventions.

With the accelerating cases of global warming from which Nigeria is presently taking her own share, there is need for a conventional orientation to disaster management, which in the words of Olusegun Ojo & Adedayo Ogundimu (2008) involves the conceptualization of ideas and mapping out of strategies to influence the development planning process.

More importantly, community empowerment through the enhancement of local capacity of the people concerned using the available materials and strategic methods in their domains and inculcate in them useful skills and knowledge to help the community respond adequately to hazards when they occur is an informed choice for positive action to avert disaster-related problems.

Just as disaster management stakeholders must remember that an empowered community is a veritable tool for sustainable development actions. The Director General of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), Alhaji Muhammad Sani-Sidi once reminded us that inadequate preparedness and lack of sustainability in our development options result to a major disaster.

Similarly, it is no doubt that if the State Emergency Management Agencies (SEMAs) and Local Emergency Management Committees are skillfully installed, mobilised and deployed by the state and local governments respectively, their involvements and participations will constitute immense forces of social change that could bring about effectiveness and sustainability in the states and grassroots’ response to manageable hazards and grossly, national development.

Since the occurrence of hazards takes place in a community and the people must suffer the impacts of the hazards, equally the degree of resultant damage by such hazards would depend on the vulnerability and community level of preparedness. In this case, one could ask, why must we wait for disasters to strike before we provide avertable humanitarian reliefs?

To achieve effectiveness in the conventional orientation to disaster management, there must be a formalized sensitization of the state and local governments to recognize that disaster management is not limited to humanitarian aids, but also helping the victims to plan and mitigate against the effects of disasters. By so doing, the local leaders in their socio-economic and political realms would be made to accept primary responsibility to protect their communities from disasters.

It was in a bid to attain the above position that Youths Against Disaster Initiative (YADI) advises the state and local governments to realize the fact that they cannot count on help coming from other jurisdictions in the first 24 hours of a catastrophe. For a sound and effective disaster management, it is recommended that local authorities are prepared to take charge of the initial management of the emergency for at least 72 hours when help may come from elsewhere.

At various levels of government, we cannot deny the fact that to set a well formalized and institutionalized administrative capacity experienced staff, personnel training and retraining programmes are seriously required. The possibility of this is doubtful without the establishment of effective and well-funded SEMAs and LEMAs throughout the 36 states in the country.

Surprisingly, it was reported in NEMA’s 2010 Annual Report that only 23 out the 36 states have SEMAs backed by law; while most of them have no financial provisions or administrative structures to enable them function effectively. The major arms of government are mandated to facilitate the full implementation and integration of emergency management programmes at the state and community levels.

While lamenting on ill-funded and unequipped disaster management administrations by state and local governments, Clementinal l. Aisueni in 2010 reported: “It is difficult for the NEMA’s training department to fully coordinate and monitor the training of the staff of the Agency and other stakeholders at the six Centres for Disasters Management and Development Studies. In the year 2010, the department did not enjoy the solicited support of State Emergency Management Agencies (SEMAs) and the Local Emergency Management Committees (LEMCs) towards sensitization on Disaster issues. The usual reason from them is lack of fund for collaboration with NEMA”.

Indeed, in 2010, NEMA appealed to the World Bank for support in the recovery process. The collaboration led to the agreement that the Bank would strengthen the capacities of NEMA and SEMAs in Disaster Damage and Loss Assessment, and help the country to get a better overview of the economic impacts and disaster resilience.

While on long term basis, apart from giving the high level of independency to SEMAs in disaster management, it was expected that the World Bank, NEMA, SEMAs and other national and state agencies will strengthen their partnership in disaster response and risk reduction to reduce the vulnerability of Nigerians to natural hazards.

Apart from the World Bank’s assistance, there exists Ecological Fund monthly allocated to each state from the Federation Account by the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC). However, the Youths Against Disaster Initiative (YADI) recently gathered that the long era of mismanagement and corruption, which could be largely attributed to state governments have discouraged the establishment and effective operation of SEMAs and LEMAs in some states.

Strengthening the operative capacity of the states’ emergency response, SEMAs must seek effective collaboration of the existing disaster management stakeholders in the states as required in section 8(1) of the Act establishing NEMA in 2001, which stated: “There is hereby established for each State of the Federation, a State Emergency Management Committee”.

Sub section 2 of the Act elaborates that the State Committee shall consist of the Deputy Governor of the state who shall be the chairman; the Secretary to the State Government; one representative each from the State Ministry of Women and Social Welfare, the State Ministry of Health, the State Ministry of Works, the State Fire Service, the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria, the State Environmental Protection Agency, the Nigerian Police Force, the Federal Road Safety Commission, the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, the Nigerian Red Cross Society, and National Maritime Authority in coastal States.

Also, to establish workable and meaningful volunteers at the grassroots level, the states must equip and mobilise LEMCs with disaster management training and skills to enable them provide assistance at all phases of disaster management including prevention, mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery. LEMCs on their own parts must ensure constant running of the emergency training and engagement, registration and development of the volunteers’ databank.

The training for LEMC in each community should focus on the objective of the Vulnerability and Capacity Analysis (VCA), which is to conduct a detailed and comprehensive hazards, population and infrastructure vulnerabilities and capacities as well as risk analysis to support mitigation, preparedness and response, taking advantage of their local methods and resources.

In his opinions on the Capacity Analysis towards Disaster Risk Reduction, Charles A. Agbo (2010) provided a strategic approach that, it is becoming increasingly clear that livelihood strategies are intricately linked to coping capacities. In his analysis, livelihood and coping capacities are inter-related; as modern day mitigation and preparedness options are tied to the household production, consumption and exchange capacities.

Furthermore, it was in support of the above Kayode Fagbemi (2010), encouraged the master trainers at grassroots levels to access and address major risks affecting the communities; determine the people vulnerability to those risks, and their capacity to cope and recover from disaster; help the communities to understand the hazards they face; assist them in taking the necessary measures to improve the situation, based on their own skills, knowledge and initiatives; and prepare the people against hazards and prevent them from turning into disasters.

The trainers must as well understand that to achieve the community’s acceptance of the training and skills brought to them by the government, they must be ready to identify the unique cultural background, the environmental attributes as well as other internal resources through which problems have been solved in each community and be ready to accommodate these community-specify features to the Disaster Risk Reduction Interventions; as advised by Alhassan Nuhu in his 2012 Media Retreat Lecture on Disaster Management.

The United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UN/ISDR) introduced Participatory Community Appraisal (PCA) (i.e. involvement of community members) as a useful method of disaster risk assessment when the community actively engaged in debate about the formal evaluation of risks. PCA would help to facilitate the documentation of local knowledge and interpretation of risk synthesized with outside approaches and captions. It would allow for positive response and active participation by the community, since the interaction is done at the community level.

Finally, giving cognizance recognition to the roles of community leaders in awareness and sensitisation on the community vulnerable hazards is a preventive opportunity against proactive disasters. Community leaders would help to notify their people, their neighbouring communities and if necessary local government of the possible consequences of the identified risk.

Abubakar Jimoh is the National Coordinator, Youths Against Disaster Initiative (YADI), lives in Abuja.
abujimoh01@yahoo.com

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