20 July 2009

Nigeria: Tackling Disaster At Grassroot in Lagos

Disasters happen all over the world and it is one aspect that nations of the world are yet to find solution to. People living in the area where disaster occurs are mostly affected. Some lose their lives, become maim and are by that circumstance forced to dependent forever even when it was not their wish as well as loss of properties. Although there have been efforts by governments world over to curb its prevalence but it seems disaster lives with us.

Nigeria, the giant of Africa, has experienced some disasters like any other developed and developing nations. States in the country are not left out as well. Several governments in both state and federal have agencies whose duty is to check disasters and come to aid of those affected. An example of this is the National Emergency Management Authority (NEMA) Lagos State Emergency Management Agency (LASEMA) and other state agencies. Lagos State being the commercial nerve of the country experiences more emergency cases in the country. The vulnerability of the state to high incidence of disasters cannot be over emphasised due to the peculiarity of its topography, climate and geographical location.

The state, which is projected to be the world's third most populated mega city come 2015, has experienced various disasters prominent amongst which was the Ikeja bomb blast in 2002 where thousands of lives were lost and the state witnessed mass burial for the victims. Properties worth billions of naira were also destroyed. Also the Abule-Egba pipeline explosion was another terrific disaster where thousands of lives were also lost as well as Ijegun pipeline explosion. There was the Eredo rainstorm where 13 communities were affected; various road traffic accidents, riots and social unrest all year round couple with the incessant collapsed buildings.

In order to curb the frequency of emergencies in the state, the state government has organised capacity building where local government chairmen across the state were trained on disaster management. This effort was to reduce disaster occurrence at the grass root level.

According to the General Manager, Lagos State Emergency Management Agency (LASEMA), Dr. Oluwafemi Oke-Osanyintolu, the reasons for increase in frequency and cost of disaster are due to increase in population and urbanisation.

He explained that it is undeniable that the world is becoming more dangerous due to rapidly growing population (Large urban concentration), urban development in coastal areas, poor planning and construction in high risk region. Others according to him include poor enforcement of building codes, inadequate public awareness and education, limited financial and technical resources, environmental degradation and climate change.

"Change in human behaviour through health education of communities is a way through which emergency managers can control the frequency and mitigate the outcome of disaster.

"However, global research and practice on disaster management is increasingly focusing on reducing the social vulnerability of people at risk. This transition requires increased understanding of the social, political and economic factors which generate vulnerabilities to hazards and underlie the differential ability for people to cope with and make adaptation to reduce their risks," he said.

The state Governor, Babatunde Fashola at a capacity building programme on disaster management at the community level organised by LASEMA said the programme was designed toward capacity building among top functionaries of the local council, members of the local emergency management committees and stakeholders at the council level to ensure adequate prevention, mitigation and response to emergencies and disasters anywhere in the state.

Speaking on the theme, "Taking Emergency/Disaster Management at the Grassroots", the governor said the greatest impact of any disaster is on the community where it occurs and proper preparation, adequate information and readiness of various stakeholders is essential to deal with emergencies.

Fashola, who spoke through his Commissioner for Special Duties, Dr. Tola Kasali said industrial fires, pipeline explosions, building collapse, flood and sundry others are some of the most worrisome of the daunting challenges which confront the state as a model mega city.

He declared that the systematic march of the state into the league of mega cities presents profound challenges in many areas of our daily living hence, the safety of lives and property.

The governor explained that the state would ultimately extend the tentacles of emergency preparedness, mitigation and response to every nook and cranny of the state saying "this is the plan and the goal."

"I wish to use this opportunity to appeal for public vigilance and alertness at all times. Our alertness should not be limited to domestic activities alone. It should cover our activities in our offices even in traffic. Only this and disciplined behaviour on our roads can significantly reduce unpalatable incidents of emergencies and disasters in our society," he said.

"This administration will continue with the systematic kitting of the agency with the necessary tools for optimal performance. Government's attention will also include improved welfare for LASEMA personnel, in view of the uniqueness of the agency's mandate. However, we expect corresponding improvement in staff performance."

While revealing that the state would soon inaugurate local emergency management committees in the 57 local governments and council development areas in the state, he maintained that the potential emergency situations that pretend to be part of our growth process as a metropolitan entity must be tackled decisively and quickly.

While baring his mind on the incessant building collapse in the state, Fashola emphasized that in order to check the menace of frequent building collapse across the state, owners of such buildings are to forfeit such property to the state government in addition to possible prosecution, if they refuse to comply with government's directives, building regulations and town planning laws.

"For the avoidance of doubt, the state government's policy on forfeiture of collapsed property has been in force and we will continue to enforce it to serve as a deterrent to unscrupulous property developers," he said.

Commissioner for Special Duties, Dr. Tola Kasali represented by Oke-Osanyintolu said the capacity building programme for council chairmen and managers in the state was the first major step towards the establishment of Local Emergency Management Committees in the local government council and local council development areas of the state.

He explained that as part of several measures to tackle these challenges, the agency is in the process of fully activating the Lagos State Emergency Response plan. Towards this, the agency will keep a close watch on the behaviour of industries, manufacturing companies and other corporate concerns, as regards compliance with safety regulations as required in the response plan.

"The whole idea is to bring emergency management to the communities, in realization of the fact that, it is the communities that bear the real brunt of emergencies and disasters when they occur.

"Our ultimate objective is to ensure that our communities and the graaroots propple, become sufficiently sensitised and enlightened on issues of emergencies/disasters prevention, response and management," he said.

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