Disaster Management – How Prepared Are We?

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By Sbu Mjikeliso Windhoek Is Namibia and its citizens ready for a disaster event, if and when it happens? Complacency: the Oxford dictionary describes the word as: self-satisfied, usually in an unreflective way and without being aware of possible dangers. This perfectly describes Namibians’ attitude towards natural disasters. The need to drop the mentality: “it would never happen to me” is becoming greater every year. Floods during the rain season are becoming more and more frequent. The matter with the Dolam residents who were flooded in early January has led me to believe that the local city council is not fully capable of dealing with life threatening emergency situations. This may have been caused by the fact that authorities assume because the country was starved of rain in the past, a flood is not a cause for concern. It has taken the municipality no less than two weeks to deal with the Dolam situation and the issue is still not yet fully resolved. City spokesperson Liz Sibindi assured me that there is an emergency unit in place to deal with such events. How effective is this unit, however? And have they been really put to the test? The last disaster that the nation has had to deal with was the death of 27 people in a truck and minibus accident that occurred in Rundu – June last year. This then prompted Deputy Prime Minister Dr Libertina Amathila to react. In a speech she made in September last year she said: “I must, at this juncture, commend the Red Cross in Namibia for its swift and proper actions undertaken together with the government and other agencies, when Namibia witnessed the tragic car accident recently, which claimed the lives of 27 people instantly.” The Fire and Ambulance department in the city is one of the tools the city of Windhoek possesses to ensure the safety of its citizens. The chief of the department, Giovanni Schoeman told New Era that on average, they receive 3 000 emergency calls per month, a number they intend to reduce by talking to people and making them aware of certain safety measures that they may adopt. “We talk constantly with the public and we also hand out pamphlets and the response we are getting so far is positive. Our staff is also trained in basic life support and a paramedic also resides within our setup.” Now that the rainy season has showered the city, it is critical emergency rescuers have to be on their toes to heed emergency calls of a different nature. “Our guys are trained thoroughly in water rescue and first aid.” Schoeman assured. The National Emergency Management Unit (NEMU) in 2001 conducted workshops to educate and train rural communities on how to prevent some of the man-made disasters in their respective regions such as Omaheke, Erongo and Otjozondjupa. NEMU director, Gabriel Kangowa says that in order for Namibia to deal effectively with emergency situations, people must be willing to change their attitude. They need to heed the calls from authorities when they are told to evacuate or refrain from building in certain areas. “Namibians believe that because we are a dry country, if it rains we will not be affected,” Gabriel added. The message from government is that people’s ignorance and arrogance will land them in grave danger. People continue to build houses along slopes and riversides knowing perfectly well that if it rains, the water can only flow towards their houses. But the onus is not solely on the people. The city has a duty to ensure that the safety of people and their belongings is well taken care of. For Namibians, it must be nice to know that the geographical sphere on which the country is located does not get hit by Tsunamis or earthquakes. But what the average person may not know is that this zone in the world is prone to tropical cyclones, which can drop unexpectedly like a thief. It is the corollary of inactive dangers that lead the mind of the common man to be redundant towards scheming safety precautions. It smells of a complacent and oblivious country in need of constant reassurance.