Civil Defence: Everybody’s Responsibility

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By Dr Moses Amweelo

Water from the overflowing Cuvelai water system in Angola has swamped hundreds of homes at Oshakati. Many residents of the Oneshila, Evululuko, Oshoopala, Sikai, Eemwandi and Uupindi informal settlements are now homeless, and relief centres at the Independence Stadium and Ongwediva Trade Fair centre are full.

His Excellency the President of the Republic of Namibia Comrade Hifikepunye Pohamba and the Emergency Management Unit (EMU) officials, a government directorate that mitigates floods and other national disasters, visited the Oshakati (Oshana), Ohangwena and Omusati regions to assess the magnitude of the floods.

The members of the Namibian Defence Force (NDF) together with Oshakati and Ongwediva town councils were picking up people left homeless in the informal settlements. Another challenge is space for the storage of flood victims’ belongings.

The NDF availed one storeroom at the base, but it is already full. Oshana police and private securities are guarding the places where the flood victims are, while NDF members are also assisting with the evacuation mission.

Civil defence has assumed great importance in any disaster. Measures safeguarding the civilian population against the effects of disasters have become a necessary part of the defence organization of every country.

There are several definitions of civil defence, but the most accepted definition is “measures adopted by the civilian population and the civil administration in the time of peace to effectively counteract the hostile action during national disasters, with expediency, thoroughness and confidence”.

It is basically an elaborate law and order situation, wherein the citizen’s voluntary cooperation with administrations and law enforcement agencies, becomes indispensable.

Besides, every department (or a body) performing a certain role in time of peace, has to adjust and train itself to live up to an allotted role under special disaster conditions.

For example, the administrative machinery should be fully geared up under the coordinating bodies at the various levels to tackle rescue and relief measures and to give positive leadership towards command and control of the situation.

The medical and health department is required likewise to organize itself to afford prompt first-aid and transportation of the victims to the hospitals for further medical attention. The telecoms department is to ensure the maintenance of communication. The welfare department is to ensure the functioning of information centres, feeding centres, evacuation, mobile canteens and the like.

To fulfill the civil defence role effectively during the time of disaster, the activities of every department more or less merge towards safety of lives, protection of property, continuance of communication and production and maintenance of morale in the public.

Civil defence in the world is all based on similar principles although the organisational defence may differ from country to country.

Civil defence is also known by other names and it varies from one country to another, such as home defence, civil aid services, emergency services, civil protection and so on but they adopt the same concept.

The definition for civil defence as stated in article 61, chapter VI part IV of protocol 11 to the Geneva Convention as appended below: “Civil Defence” means the performance of some or all of the under-mentioned humanitarian tasks intended to protect the civilian population against danger, and to help it to recover from the immediate effects or hostilities or disasters and also to provide the conditions necessary for its survival. These tasks are:

– warning

– evacuation

– management of shelters

– rescue

– medical services, including first-aid,

– fire-fighting

– detection and marking of danger areas

– decontamination and similar protective measures

– provision of emergency accommodation and supplies

– emergency assistance in the restoration and maintenance of order in the disaster areas

– emergency repairs of indispensable public utilities

– assistance in the preservation of objects essential for survival

– complementary activities necessary to carry out any of the tasks mentioned above, including, but not limited to, planning and organisation.

More than 600 “family units” and over a thousand people were displaced by the flooding phenomenon popularly known as efundja at the informal settlements and few houses in the centre of the town were also flooded.

The members of the Namibia Defence Force (NDF) were rescuing and transporting the victims to the high ground, they were also helping the community in filling up sand bags to barricade floodwater in the areas which were most affected.

There is great cause for concern owing to the fact that the civil defence suffers due to misconception. Since the term “civil defence” bears inclusion of the word “defence” bigger ideas and preparations are always thought to be connected with it.

Undoubtedly there are bigger things about civil defence on a national level but ideas and lessons of civil defence to a larger extent could easily be given a practical shape within the four corners of a household with its humble means and resources.

To all intents and purposes civil defence preparedness at every household is the cornerstone to the entire edifice of civil defence at a bigger national level.

In this respect the tide of civil defence runs opposite to that of active military defence. In the latter case, it is the government which builds the entire machinery but in the former it is the people at large who build the base at every household upon which only the civil defence could raise its lofty head.

The tenets of civil defence could prove useful in the everyday life of a household. The points of importance are that there is nothing new or special about civil defence preparations.

The precautions and preparations that a household should build up to forestall any domestic accidents or mishaps that may befall the people during the normal goings-on of life, best serve the causes for civil defence.

The approach is, therefore, very simple. Security against normal accidents in everyday life, also secures a household from that point of view.

As the saying goes “civil defence begins at home”. In order to overcome the misconception that the agency responsible for community preparedness should carry out training and education programmes to build up resilience, to begin with, the householders could be taught on subjects like basic fire-fighting, first-aid including cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CRP), escape and rescue from burning building, emergency methods of rescue in case of disaster (floods) and various other civil defence life saving measures.

Why is civil defence necessary?

The need for civil defence was based on two aspects – the practical and the moral. On the practical side, there is the simple and obvious fact that disasters and hostile actions do cripple the society and industry and hence affects the economy.

On the moral side, there are two related premises; the first, needless destruction of human life; the second, failure to take adequate precaution against predictable events.

It is, therefore, expected of the government to have a moral responsibility to protect the population against any disaster. Towards this end, an effective civil defence organisation having an overall plan to meet specific situations, should contain the following basic elements:

– A control plan with its accompanying standing orders, etc.

– A life-saving plan

– A welfare and relief plan

In order to put the plan into operations, coordinating bodies at various levels should be functioning. Since civil defence is often considered as the integral part of the overall defence structure of a nation, it would be appropriate to have an overview of the defence potential of a nation.

Natural disasters should involve all the political, economic and resources of the nation, and therefore, the successful conduct of the operations of disaster lies in the best combination of the various strategic plans and their effective mobilization.

Speedy mobilization is the key to preparedness for disaster. It is not merely the training and the expansion of resources, but also the maximum utilization of all industrial efforts and the entire defence potential of a nation which brings about success in any disaster.

The responsibility for civil defence rests squarely on the shoulders of every individual, family, community, institution, agency, scientific development, intelligence, research and availability of technical manpower.

The aim of civil defence organisations should be to mould the mental and moral standards of men and women, as these human qualities are vital to the sphere of activities. The spirit of a nation is the strong will of that nation to overcome problems of any disaster even when the conditions are adverse.

This spirit can be built up only by an efficient civil defence organisation of the nation. It is the combined effort of all that makes civil defence a success. Hence civil defence becomes everybody’s responsibility in case of any disaster.

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