The National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) recently won an award for efficiency and proactive intervention in handling of disaster occurrences in the country. Onyebuchi Ezigbo writes on the need for more action in the area of disaster risk reduction campaigns if the agency hopes to contain the ever-increasing disaster phenomenon with serious humanitarian consequences
The National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) recently won the 2014 productivity award.
According to the National Productivity Centre, (NPC) which runs a yearly assessment of performance index by government institutions and agencies, NEMA has made impressive and commendable achievements in the area of timely responses to emergency situation across the country.
NPC, a federal government agency which is saddled with the responsibility to promote and monitor work efficiency among individual professionals, organisations and government agencies, said it has assessed NEMA in line with its established mandate of coordinating rapid responses and mitigation against effects of disaster in the country.
What may have attracted NPC’s search-light on NEMA activities could be the agency’s series of interventions during emergency situations. Initially NEMA was seen as a mere coordinating body in charge of policy initiation and strategy development, while other incident response agencies like the Fire Service, Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) and Civil Defence Corps were expected to collaborate with it dealing with accidents, disaster and other humanitarian crisis that could arise.
In its ratings, NPC came out with verdict that the agency has indeed made significant strides in emergency management through formulation of result-oriented policies, monitoring, data collection, and public enlightenment on disaster risk reduction. It also held that NEMA’s proactive disposition has manifested in its regular intervention in dealing with insurgency menace in the North-east zone of the country.
“NEMA is visibly present and its impact effectively felt in crisis situations such as building collapse, air crash, fire outbreak and floods. Its effective coordination of internally displaced persons and distribution of relief materials during 2012 flood across states in Nigeria was commendable”, the NPC explained.
From all indications, the NPC award was meant to serve as an appreciation for NEMA’s effort at managing disaster and to encourage the agency and its collaborating stakeholders to do more. The NPC award could not have come at a more apt time than now.
In 2012, just before the escalation of insurgency and Boko Haram attacks, Nigeria faced its worst flood disaster ever, losing an estimated N2.6 trillion in one year of flooding across the country.
Recent climatic changes in the world have resulted in not too favourable weather conditions for the country. A good example was the massive and devastating flooding that occurred in 2012, for which the country lost billions of Naira in both material and human lives.
At that time, some of the reasons given for the overwhelming damaging impact of the flood were poor coordination among rescue agencies, lack of proper drainage facilities, lack of compliance to early warning signals and advice by states and those residing on floodplains. There was also the issue of slow response by states in establishing and funding of local emergency management agencies, which made response to the flood incident a herculean task.
That ugly experience reawakened the consciousness of the various authorities, especially NEMA’s collaborating agencies and the state government towards finding lasting solution to the dangers posed by flooding.
As the Director General of the NEMA, Muhammed Sani-Sidi, made known in his speech at the 4th Global Forum on Disaster Risk Reduction in Geneva, Switzerland, the need to adopt pragmatic initiatives aimed at reducing disaster risk and building the resilience of communities became an imperative.
Sani-Sidi described 2012 as one of the most challenging for Nigeria in recent history with the unprecedented flood that ravaged several states of the country, affected over seven million people, displaced 2.3 million people, killed over 363 persons and destroyed or damaged about 597,476 houses.
According to him, Nigeria as a country believes that it has the responsibility to increase the tempo of activities in disaster risk reduction (DRR) and enlist the support of everyone in confronting the hazards risk in the country especially with the consequences of climate change and global warming staring everyone in the face.
“The flood was a classical case of how disasters can reverse development in a developing country like Nigeria. However the calamities wrought by the 2012 floods offer for our country an important window of opportunity to address difficulties and long-standing development issues”.
Coping with Disaster
Indeed the 2012 flood disaster thought Nigeria a very useful lesson which has translated into more proactive policy actions and initiatives in not only managing disaster but attempting to preempt and curtail it.
One of noticeable changes is the coming together of all relevant agencies in disaster management to devise a more proactive synergy. Agencies such as the various arms of the security forces, the Nigerian Meteorological Agency, the Fire Service, Nigerian Civil Defence Corps, FRSC, Ministry of Health and Environment and non-governmental organisations like the Red Cross, all teamed up to work out a model response mechanism to disasters and emergency situations.
It is the outcome of the new synergy made possible by the weather predictions by NIMET. Perhaps the secret of the success recorded by the country in flood mitigation has been the ability of the response agencies to make the NIMET predictions a more prominent working tool for disaster risk reduction in the country under the coordination of NEMA.
Such weather predictions by NIMET has helped to provide foreknowledge of adverse weather conditions as it affects various parts of the country and has equipped NEMA and other stakeholders with necessary information to prepare against flood.
It was not surprising that statistics on disaster incidents came tumbling down in 2013. According the Acting Director of Planning, Research and Forecasting, Alhasan Nuhu, although there was flood in 2013, “the agency recorded a decrease , number of persons affected to less than one million while 38 people lost their lives and 160 people were displaced; compared to the devastating 2012 flood disaster”.
He attributed the success recorded to sensitisation campaign embarked upon by the agency based on seasonal rainfall prediction and Nigeria Hydrological Service Agency (NIHSA) 2013 annual flood outlook.
While explaining the improvement recorded between last year and this year 2014, NEMA’s Director-General, Sani-Sidi, said the agency had carried out preparedness activities based on the 2013 rainfall predictions, which included convening of a meeting of all stakeholders to critically analyse the prediction.
“The meeting came up with the early warning message highlighting the implications and recommendations in those sectors of the socio-economy that were climate sensitive. A national workshop was also organised to disseminate early warning messages which focused on the lessons learnt from the 2012 flood disaster in the country,” he added.
The DG further stated that the agency, in its preparedness had stockpiled relief materials in all the zonal offices and at the head office, acquired equipment in readiness for flood disaster, identified vulnerable communities and safe grounds in all vulnerable communities as temporary shelter locations.
Apart from maintaining yearly early warning system, the agency had identified some challenges of seasonal rainfall prediction (SRP) as lack of outreach to key stakeholders at the most basic levels, poor communication of forecasts, lack of trust in forecast and low capacity to act on the forecasts.
On his part, the Director General, NIMET, Dr. Anthony Anuforom, had explained that SRP was one of the NIMET early warning products that provide vital information for weather disaster risk reduction and mitigation, especially in those sectors that are dependent on or affected by rainfall and temperature.
The threat of disaster emergency situations in the country did not end with arresting the impact of flooding. In fact, Nigeria is presently grappling with many challenges, some of which are capable of posing serious humanitarian problem if not properly checked or contained.
Some of these challenges have come in form of human-induced or natural disasters, all threatening the well-being of the people. Social crisis which came in form of sectarian strife and blossomed into full-blown armed insurgency has suddenly created a war-like situation in the country, with spate of fatal bombing incident, with displaced persons being prepared for their rehabilitation and re-integration back to normal life.
As at middle of August, 2014, the agency gave the figure of those who fled their homes after the attacks on Gwoza, sleeping in two internally displaced camps established in Adamawa State as 11,442.
While NEMA has already commenced humanitarian intervention in Chibok, the number of displaced persons due to the raging military conflict has surpassed existing facilities and there are obvious gaps in the requirement of the affected persons.
For instance, though the agency has been working hard to establish enough Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camps to cater for the growing army of fleeing villagers from the conflict areas of the North-east, the situation appears to be overwhelming the facilities. Another major challenge is the poor preparedness or even lack of it by most state governments.
The situation calls for collective action by relevant sectors of protective health, education, emergency food and non-food items, water and sanitation as well as provision of durable solutions.