How We Should Tackle Disasters

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By Moses Amweelo

– Improving Emergency Plans and Preparedness for Disasters (Floods) in our Northern Regions.

This article will briefly give a tentative account of how emergency situations should be dealt with in our regions (Caprivi, Oshana, Ohangwena).

A major concern here is the need to establish a national body whose task will be centred on forming a sound national organ to deal with emergencies and disasters that seem to be on the increase from day to day.

Generally, emergencies may be described as a sudden damaging occurrence within a specific period of time in a given place where lives, property and other development processes are put at risk.

In some instances, emergency situations may turn into major disasters where considerable loss is experienced. Therefore, since we all understand that we did not create the world but created most problems, we are obliged to search for sustainable solutions to these problems.

This article will have two primary objectives: first to develop a means of dealing with emergencies for our regions reflecting on major disastrous situations that have occurred. The second objective: focusing on training and developing a pool of expertise in all matters of emergency situations, early warning systems, preparedness, mitigation, and relief administration.

These objectives can be best achieved by maintaining close cooperation with international organizations so that assistance and other information can be obtained whenever required.

All the emergencies, i.e. fires, rescue operations, floods, etc. are reported to the Office of the Prime Minister or to the local authorities in good time.

The first objective can be achieved first by forming a national emergency committee whose major task will be three-fold:

– Pre-planning before an emergency.

– Operations during the emergency.

– Support and documentation after the emergency.

The committee should ensure amongst its responsibilities, to establish regional emergency plans where there will be region to region uniformity and emergency preparedness. This will ensure competent emergency personnel for supervision of the aforementioned tasks in their respective regions, with close liaison maintained up to national level.

This system would be totally different from the present situation where no regional involvement is considered in emergency plans, unless a disaster strikes and a national committee for disaster fund comes in only to asses the damage incurred, and provide relief funds.

The system that I recommend in this article will enable the committee to acquire up-to date information from every region on what are the requirements before an emergency has occurred, also what should be done during and after the emergency.

For many years our National Committee for Disaster Fund only considered relief assistance to the victims after an emergency had struck, but a major question here is not only providing the assistance to the victims every time a disaster has occurred, but to be able to minimize the occurrences.

It should be the responsibility of this recommended national emergency committee to ensure that our ever expanding towns and other areas are planned accordingly, people are educated to well maintain their environment so that anything that might cause a problem should be avoided, workers in their working places must be acquainted with safety rules, and authorities concerned must ensure that all safety regulations are followed and implemented everywhere.

People nationwide must be provided at least with basic knowledge about emergencies and how to react in case of any of emergency. There should also be legislation empowering concerned authorities to intervene in any business to ensure that safety is achieved every time.

Only Meet Once

We have experienced also that most of our committees meet once something has happened only, which is too late to do anything. This recommended committee will be able to schedule regular meetings to foresee and rectify problems that might have occurred within the plan and ensure there is always a plan of action.

This plan must be practised by creating mock scenarios of emergencies time after time so that everyone becomes familiar with it.

Second objective: focusing on training and developing a pool of expertise in all matters of emergency. In order to achieve the primary objective, there should be a good training programme for those whose task will be dealing with emergencies. Regular seminars can broadly contribute to the success of emergency planning.

Also, training should be started from regional level where the introduction of disaster managers and emergency relief organizations is of necessity.

Gradually this can assist in achieving the required expertise nationwide.

Training programmes should include all emergency related matters, i.e. risk management, crisis management, accident preparedness, damage minimization, etc. These are the most important elements when one considers how inappropriately accidents or emergencies are dealt with in regions. Lack of these important factors has contributed to considerable loss of lives and properties as well as our environment.

There were quite a number of disasters (floods) in our country. We have experienced floods in Caprivi Region almost every year. In Mariental, flooding is reported to have occurred first during 1923, 1934 and major flood events were experienced in 1972, 1989, 2000, and the town was plunged into chaos on 24 February 2006 when the sluice gates were fully opened to release water from the dam which had reached an alarming 110% of its capacity after heavy rainfall of 130 mm was experienced in the region, which increased the inflow into the dam (Dr M. Amweelo (2006). Article on ‘Mariental Floods: Perspective’).

Another case happened at Oshigambo, Walvis Bay, etc.

This month in Oshakati (Oshana Region) more of the shacks at the informal settlements of Uupindi, Oshoopala, Oneshila and Kandjengendi were most affected and have been swamped by floods, forcing authorities to relocate flood victims to Ongwediva Trade Fair and the Unam Northern Campus Hall. It was also reported that villages at Endola are completely cut off from Oshakati because the small bridge linking the two areas has been washed away (New Era 1 February 2008).

Neighbouring countries Zambia, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi have been lashed by heavy rains for several weeks this year (2008). Swollen rivers have burst their banks, killing dozens and forcing thousands of villagers to flee flooded homes. Floods also have destroyed bridges and roads and swept away livestock and crops.

All these could have been avoided or minimized if the authorities concerned were provided with certain training on preparedness and preventive risk management planning. These cases should be a lesson and a major question now is how are we going to avoid or minimize such occurrences in the future.

We have experienced that many reports provided by the committee appointed to investigate such accidents cite a lack of preparedness, ignorance of safety measures, lack of training and lack or proper working facilities to tackle many accidents that happen in our country. Management by crisis is a common phenomenon in of our third world countries.

When one looks at the systems with which emergencies are dealt with in these countries, one will agree that we have the “it can’t happen to me” syndrome whose final outcome is a major disaster. Many times our authorities are caught unawares when emergency situations occur and find themselves in total darkness, then everyone starts blaming each other, and at the end of the day everything is lost.

At least after such happening one would be expected to learn something, but on the contrary people tend to forget everything just after a few days and the situation remains as bad as ever, with people’s lives at risk.

Provision of managerial and technical skills for emergency personnel is of utmost importance. People like rescuers, medical officers, emergency relief agencies, police and others who are most of the times involved in emergency situations need to be more conversant with management and techniques in emergencies.

There is a tendency in many of our countries to believe that all the personnel whose duties are physical during emergencies, all they need is physical strength to perform their job and nothing else.

In actual fact these people need adequate managerial and technical knowledge to ensure their efficient and successful operations. These people are always expected to deal with accidents and cases whose handling needs certain experience and expertise, i.e. hazardous materials of considerable risk, natural hazards, i.e. earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, industrial hazards, environmental hazards, where sometimes whose tackling needs strategies to prevent them rather that physically fighting them.

It has been discovered that most of our emergency personnel acquire very little knowledge in managerial approaches, as a result many officers find themselves in a dilemma when required to offer more than what they know during discussions.

These personnel have always an active and highly visible presence in the community, and it is very discouraging to see their important role has not kept pace with the current demand whereby their presence in the community requires skills, planning, education and exposure on a broad front.

Effort should be exerted to offer them good training, include them in decision-making and finally coordinate a team approach for them to carry out their duties properly and in a more efficient manner.

For prevention and mitigation of disasters, land use policies need not be taken in isolation but should be responsive to the socio-economic needs and resources at regional and national level.

In the formulation of land use policies in a broad macro-framework the conflict between competing sectors of development need to be minimized.
For instance, with rapid urbanization, slum and squatter areas have proliferated at unsuitable locations including low-lying areas exposed to periodic or seasonal flooding, but they are close to employment opportunities and services.

In such situations it would be desirable to provide safe and suitable urban land for such slum and squatter areas in close proximity to employment centres. Hence, comprehensive land policies and programmes can deal effectively with the problem of disaster prevention in urban areas. The areas for urban extension especially for low-income groups should be linked to transport and employment facilities, social infrastructure and services as part of the comprehensiveness of policy framework where land use policies are supported by corresponding social and economic policies.

For implementation of land policies, central and regional governments should influence land policies through programmes of financial aid and assistance to local bodies. The development grants, loans and subsidies may be provided on condition that certain land use measures be applied to reduce disaster risk.

Macro land use zoning at national and regional level would be an efficient tool to control the overall location of various human activities. This would be helpful in reduction of vulnerability since hazardous areas can be zoned permanently for agricultural and recreational purposes, minimizing the concentration of urban or semi-urban populations.

Each macro zoning for disaster prevention should, however, be in conformity with the overall social, economic and environmental goals. Micro zoning should be resorted to indicate detailed land uses for each site along with intensity of use. Urban renewal and urban extension should strictly be based on the zones for new land uses in order to limit or prevent potential disasters.

Zoning followed by subdivision regulation would ensure safe development patterns on hazardous lands. The permission for construction and location of any activity within the micro land use zones could further be used as an instrument to regulate the type of land use activities and to effectuate the desired pattern of development.

The land use controls should not only be limited to those areas which are directly affected by the hazards but should also be followed in the same spirit in those areas which in fact contribute to the hazard potential.

The provision of essential public services and facilities is an important component of disaster prevention and risk management efforts. Land pooling or town planning schemes could prove to be effective for development of land.

The land market is very complex. In order to prevent or mitigate natural disasters effectively through land use controls, it would be necessary to maintain accurate information on land records.

On the basis of land information system a particular type of development could be considered keeping in view the type of risk associated with that area so as to locate human activities on a less disaster-prone parcel of land.

Fiscal and financial incentives can also be used as tools in land use control for disaster prevention.

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