22 September 2012

Nigeria: NEMA and the Burden of Disaster Management


As floods continue to submerge communities, displacing thousands of Nigerians and destroying property worth millions of naira; as erosion continues to destroy lands and buildings in parts of the South- East and bombs continue to explode across the nation, especially in the North, killing hundreds of innocent souls, the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) is faced with the onerous task of coordinating disaster mitigation, reduction and management.

Globally, 27.5 million people are displaced annually by disasters and emergencies. Africa alone accounts for 11.1 of this figure.

Although Nigeria may not be one of the countries with a huge number of displaced persons, NEMA has every reason to worry.

And the last two years have seen the agency live up to its mandate as provided in Act 12, as amended by Act 50 of 1999. The agency has the mandate to manage disasters in Nigeria through the establishment of concrete structures and measures.

Since the establishment of NEMA it has never been under such pressure as it has witnessed since 2010. In addition to the task of managing floods, large-scale erosion, communal conflicts, desertification and fire disasters, the agency has been confronted by a new man-made evil - bomb blasts.

The increase in disasters, both natural and man-made, has therefore served as a wake-up call to duty for the agency. Pressured from all sides, the agency has, however, demonstrated an absolute resolve to confront the menace, paying attention to factors that were hitherto overlooked.

Widely known for the distribution of relief materials to victims of disaster, NEMA has continued to de-emphasise reactionary approach to emergencies.

To achieve the needed results, the agency has ensured a continuous capacity building for its staff members and other stakeholders through local and international seminars and workshops. In addition, it regularly organises simulation exercises for stakeholders. Such exercises test the capability of the first response agencies in the event of an unexpected incident.

With the support of Muhammed Sani Sidi, the man at the helms of affair, NEMA has created enough public awareness on its activities. This it has done through a timely information dissemination, enlightenment programmes as well as the effective engagement of the media. This has greatly contributed to the increase in its level of success.

Currently, experts are engaged to carry out a behavioural change campaign on flood disaster in both radio and television networks nationwide. This also includes the usage of information education and communication tools.

The highly motivated team at NEMA also undertakes advocacy and sensitisation campaigns in communities and markets to sensitise artisans and petty traders on the need for insurance covers for their wares in case of outbreaks.

Realising that most disasters can be prevented through adequate education and effective coordination of voluntary organisations engaged in emergency relief operations, NEMA launched and promoted the establishment of volunteerism for disaster management in the country. So far, it has mobilised and registered thousands of volunteers in its Grassroots Emergency Volunteers Corps (GEVC) and Emergency Management Vanguard (EMV).

It has also carried its awareness campaign to the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), as well as primary and secondary schools, recruiting most of the young people as volunteers. Today, the agency has an increased volunteer base, one that has richly contributed to its success story.

To further record outstanding results, the leadership of NEMA has developed policy documents-----the National Disaster Framework (NDMF) and the National Contingency Plan. While the former is designed to coordinate disaster management structures in Nigeria, the latter provides requirements and plan for humanitarian response for 10,000 displaced persons during emergencies. It has also created a toll-free line (0800callnema) for the purpose of responding promptly to distress calls and preventing serious emergencies from becoming full-scale tragedies.

To avert emergencies the agency runs a post-graduate programme in six federal universities on Disaster Management. This is aimed at coordinating and promoting research activities relating to disaster at the national level. Already, take-off grants have been provided to the institutions.

NEMA has also expanded its frontiers by setting up an emergency management agency in Gambia based on a request of the government of that country. It has also provided relief items to displaced persons in Congo Brazzaville.

There is the need therefore, to sustain the struggle and success of the agency. And this requires effective synergy and collaboration by various stakeholders.

Importantly, state and local governments must not only establish disaster management agencies but also provide adequate funding to ensure prompt response to emergencies at all levels. Disaster management is the business of all and must be treated as such.

The author is a strategic communication specialist based in Abuja.

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