International Day for Disaster Reduction: What do you do when disaster strikes?

ON September 6, Obi Nwaegbo, an artist based in Abuja, watched in horror as the furniture in his sitting room vibrated, including the decorations that adorned the wall of the room. The windows rattled at the same time. He had a hard time trying to understand what the problem was but he quickly assumed that the “shakings” could not be an earthquake. It might have been triggered by earth moving equipment used by construction companies in breaking rocks within his locality.

He grew up knowing very little about the threats of natural disasters, apart from what he had read from his elementary geography. The next morning, he discovered the “shakings” was a tremor, a prelude to an earthquake. He described the incident as traumatic and an unpleasant reality that he would not want to experience again.

Obi had a litany of questions on his mind after the tremor persisted for several days. How should I respond to such disaster situations in the future? Why was there no publicity by government agencies to prepare people for occurrences like this? How are residents to evacuate in an orderly fashion without causing panic if the need arises?

“That incident was horrible and I don’t want to recall it because I get goosebumps when I think about it”, he said.

October 13 marks the International Day for Disaster Reduction. This year’s theme is  “Step Up”. As the world observes this important occasion, it calls for the Nigerian government to answer certain vital questions. What is the response plans and systems set up by the government to contain pre-disaster and after-disaster situations? What is the emergency preparedness of the agencies involved in handling a disaster?

The Nigeria Metrological Agency (NIMET) on March 13 predicted that 12 states on the River Niger trough might experience flash flooding this year due to persistent rainfall. The states placed on red alert were Adamawa, Anambra, Bayelsa, Benue, Delta, Edo, Kebbi, Kogi, Kwara, Niger, Rivers and Taraba. But earlier forecast did not prevent many Nigerians from dying from the floods.

According to data obtained from the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) website, it was estimated that 108 persons had lost their lives and 192 persons were reportedly injured from the floods that hit the affected states as at late August.

NEMA: An agency that feeds itself

NEMA, the body charged with the responsibility of coordinating plans and programmes for efficient and effective response to the disaster at the national level, has N 1,620,903,595 as for its total budgetary allocation for 2018 according to data obtained from the budget office. Its recurrent spending for 2018 is N988,783,363 which constitutes about 61% of the total budget.

The records suggest that NEMA’s execution of projects capable of alleviating the suffering of displaced persons from a natural disaster or mitigating the effects of disaster falls short of expectations and needs.

In a phone interview with NEMA spokesperson, Sani Datti, he defended the responses of the agency to disasters in the country.

“NEMA is doing everything in its power to assist people displaced by the flooding experienced across the country. We have our men on the ground and we are supplying relief materials to camps where they are needed,” he said.

When he was asked about the pre-disaster evacuation arrangements or policies put in place by NEMA to reduce casualties before the advent of a natural disaster, he said he was busy with a press release and should be contacted later.

“Your question is distracting me right now. I have a press release in 30 minutes. Please call back later,” he said.

The reporter tried reaching him on phone hours later but to no avail. His phone rang but he did not answer the calls.

The Assessment Capacities Project (ACAPS), a non-profit humanitarian agency, in a recent publication revealed that river levels in the 12 most affected states had increased due to flooding, affecting 441,250 people and displacing 141,360 between late August and 24 September.

The report stated that Rivers and Bayelsa states are likely to be among the worst affected states but initial calculations indicate that 13,030 homes were damaged or destroyed across all affected states as of late August.

Making a difference before disaster strikes

A non-governmental organization based in Ibadan, Center for Disaster Risk and Crises Reduction (CDRSC), in collaboration with Global Network for Disaster Reduction (GNDR) launched a project named FRONTLINE to strengthen local engagement by communicating with local groups in disaster-prone areas. The project was aimed at sensitising people about risks in their communities and train them to take local action towards resilience building.

The project, which was launched earlier this year, spans across several states including Lagos, Imo, Kwara, Cross River and Akwa Ibom. Nigeria is among the few selected pilot countries to implement the project because of its level of risk and the need to make communities at the frontline of disasters prepared and committed to reducing the adverse effects of natural disaster.



    In a chat with the Executive director of the Center for Disaster Risk and Crises Reduction (CDRSC), Amusat Kolawole, he urged the government to become more involved in disaster risk reduction at the local levels.

    “The culture of disaster risk management has been imbibed in the country but we have a long way to go. Government efforts are only seen at the national level that is the reason disaster vulnerability keeps increasing at the community level,” he said.

    “You can imagine how poor response will be if local governments do not have a contingency plan for threats like flood that can be activated to respond when there is flood disaster.  All what local governments do presently is to call for SEMA while SEMA, in turn, calls for NEMA for assistance and support.”

    “We need to make disaster risk management in Nigeria community based, bottom-top and we should be serious about preventing, mitigating and responding to natural disasters,” Kolawole said.

    Amos Abba is a journalist with the International Center for Investigative Reporting, ICIR, who believes that courageous investigative reporting is the key to social justice and accountability in the society.

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