Kigali — In order to succeed preventing preventable disasters and responding properly to those that occur beyond the affected communities' control, it must be a shared responsibility of both the public and private sector.
Civil society which by its very existence constitutes well over 90% of any country's population should maximally be involved. It must be inspired to support Government efforts and those of other actors in preventing and containing disasters including reducing and or mitigating related risks.
Government officials must not act alone or be left to act alone as if they are the only likely victims. They are not the only ones vulnerable. Everyone is vulnerable. After all they are only a small fraction of the country's population to act alone and succeed.
All sections of civil society in the country, including foreigners, must wake up to the fact and support Government efforts and those of other actors to prevent and contain disasters. Those already involved should be commended and given all possible support they need.
Programmes and projects of civil society organisations (CSOs) should have a component and budget for disaster prevention and management in much the same way they do to and or with health and safety. They should be geared towards complementing Government efforts in this. They should not work unmindful of the same or as rivals to Government in the matter but as partners.
Disaster Prevention and Management structures at all levels of the Government administrative hierarchy should be formed and or strengthened at village, parish, sub-county, county, district, provincial and national level.
They should consist of a good number of relevant Government officials according to need, including those from the Department of Meteorology, the Police Department, the Fire Brigade, Ministries responsible for Finance, Development Planning, Works or Infrastructure, Water, Agriculture, Health, Environment, Children, Women, the Disabled and Community Development. Above all, the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) should be involved and be part of the national structure for coordination purposes.
United Nations agencies in the country such as UNDP, UNOCHA, UNWFP, FAO, UNICEF, WHO, UNFPA, UNHCR and others, should also be brought on board as members of the structures particularly at national level.
So should international donor agencies such as OXFAM, ICRC, DANIDA, NORAD, GTZ, JICA, DFID, Concern Worldwide, German Agro Action, World Vision, Care International, Plan International, Caritas, CRS and others.
Red Cross too should be involved to gain from its wealth of experience in dealing with disasters, especially disaster response. So should the media, Government and the private media. Religious leaders too should be involved because of the big influence they wield on their followers.
After structures are formed, they should be trained from time to time on their proper and expected role. Forming them without giving them initial and regular training is similar to not forming them at all.
Before forming them, the Government Ministry or Authority responsible for Disaster Prevention and Management should come up with the Terms of Reference, guiding how structures will be formed, including their composition and responsibilities.
Each structure should ideally consist of a cross section of essential players in disaster prevention and management. It should have a Chairperson, a Vice Chairperson, a Secretary, an Alternate Secretary and a Treasurer.
The Vice Chairperson, the Secretary and the Treasurer should preferably be Government officials from the relevant Ministry or Department or Authority or level of Government hierarchy. The Chairperson and the Alternate Secretary should be members of the civil society to ensure some degree of checks and balances. It will also serve as an incentive for civil society's wholehearted participation.
Each structure should meet at least once a month. However, it should be free to meet as many times as it considers it expedient depending on the budget, magnitude or seriousness of the disasters in the particular area or areas. During which meetings, proper minutes should be recorded and circulated to members well in advance, by the most cost effective yet expedient means, before the next meeting.
In order to ensure effectiveness and regular attendance of meetings by members of the structures, adequate funding should be availed to structures in time by Government or donors for among other things paying transport or subsistence allowance to their members.
The Government Authority responsible for Disasters should source for funds well in time. Expecting members to volunteer, without paying them anything, will only work at the beginning of structure formation when the euphoria for the same is there.
Afterwards, it will dwindle or disappear. Members will then inevitably find it costly and or uneconomical to continue attending meetings or running errands. Consequently, structures will remain in name without achieving what they are meant to achieve.
It should also be noted that it is useless to establish national or provincial or district structures without grassroots ones at village or district level that are closer to the majority of our people who suffer most when disasters strike.
Village and district level structures will help to effectively mobilise and involve communities at grassroots to prevent disasters and respond to those that occur beyond their control. Higher structures should have direct working linkages with lower ones to succeed.
Essentially, all Governments in the region should spearhead the initiative of establishing or strengthening the Ministry or Department responsible for Disaster Prevention and Management like the Government of Rwanda and other Governments in the region are doing.
More appropriately and or better still, they should establish autonomous Disaster Management Authorities, well and timely funded, and equipped.
Through a National Disaster Prevention and Management structure, Government should work with experts, including the media and civil society, to identify and map out disaster prone areas in the country such as those often affected by floods, landslides, drought, epidemics, influx of refugees or internally displaced people (IDPs) and the like.
It should then move to ensure that such areas are always equipped in advance with relevant emergency tools and relief aid near them. It makes no sense to keep such things at the nation's capital and only to start moving them to the countryside after disasters have stricken.
Impassable or difficult road conditions and other means of transport will render the effort futile if gadgets and kits are stuck on the way for days, weeks or months.
Experience has so far shown that flood disasters, for instance, tend to wash away bridges, making roads absolutely impassable. Sometimes airstrips and airports in such areas also become flooded. As a result, transport and communication as a whole become a nightmare and therefore impossible.
With the help of experts, the National Disaster Prevention and Management structure should among other things establish and or identify Early Warning Systems (EWSs), have them communicated to the various levels of Government, including the public through the media.
The training given to Disaster Prevention and Management structures, throughout the levels, should include how to use Early Warning Systems to warn and build the resilience of the population or concerned communities towards looming disasters.
The relevant Government Ministry, Department or Authority concerned with disasters should design and host a website about the country's disasters, including information on disaster prone areas, Early Warning Systems, achievements, failures and future plans.
It should then encourage the public regularly through radio, television, newspapers and meetings to visit it and even make contributions in the form of ideas, volunteers, money and material assistance.
Government should also have a clear and publicly known policy on Disaster Prevention and Management for all involved in the same to translate it in their plans, programmes and projects. It should also have known contingent plans and a contingent fund for responding to disasters.
Parliament and or the Senate should enact a special law for dealing with disaster related crimes.
Likewise, the Government Ministry or Authority responsible for development planning should integrate Disaster Prevention and Management in National Planning in consultation with the Government Ministry responsible for Disaster Prevention and Management. So should the Government Ministry responsible for Finance to include the same in National Budgeting.
It is also necessary that the Government Ministry responsible for Education in the country to research into ways of developing a curriculum for including Disaster Prevention and Management in the system of education and accordingly do so.
It should research into how best to include it as an essential subject in primary and secondary school education and as a degree course at University level, to groom a cadre of well qualified Disaster Control Managers for the country and the region.
Besides forming or having various structures on Disaster Prevention and Management, neighbouring countries like those in the East African Community and beyond should be influenced or inspired to form or strengthen networks on Disaster Prevention and Management, to work together.
All endeavours should emphasize prevention and preparedness rather than response to disasters, using conventional disaster prevention and reduction education.
Best practices should be sought, published and used. Sub standard handling of disasters must be avoided, to limit and or reduce risks, damage or loss.