2 October 2012

Rwanda: Preparing for Disaster

Despite Rwanda being among the leading countries in Disaster Risk Reduction and Management in the region, systems are being strengthened to improve pre, during and post disaster management.

According to Jean Baptiste Nsengiyumva, the Director in charge of Research and Public Awareness, through the mapping system, the areas that are more prone to disasters have been identified.

One of the underlying challenges has been lack of capacity to anticipate disasters before they occur.

The Ministry of Disaster Management and Refugee (MIDIMAR) has identified areas that are most prone to disasters in order to devise solutions and avoid hazards turning into disasters.

Nsengiyumva said that the mapping strategy helps to mitigate disasters that could occur. Some of the most common hazards in Rwanda are floods, landslides and strong winds.

He singled out Nyabihu, Rulindo, Burera, Rwamagana, Muhanga, Rutsiro and Nyamashekye as the most affected areas.

Between January and May, this year alone, 32 people died, 1,442 houses, 25 classrooms and 2,227 hectares of plantations were destroyed across the country by floods or landslides.

The average rainfall increased from 40-70 mm in 2011 to 80-115mm in 2012 for the same period. The floods and landslides led to the destruction of lives, property and public infrastructure.

According to Julius Kabubi, the Disaster Risk Reduction Advisor to EAC, Rwanda has put in place very clear mechanisms, policies and strategies that are more elaborate compared to those of other countries, in dealing with disaster risk reduction.

He noted that besides setting aside resources, Rwanda has built capacity by training community and other people to get involved in disaster prevention and management.

The Ministry in collaboration with Red Cross, has trained First Responders' teams who are equipped with skills and expertise in handling disasters..

According to the Ministry's Public Relations Officer, Fredrick Ntawukuliryayo, every district in Rwanda has a team of at least 30 people who are trained in disaster risk reduction and management.

He added that all the seven districts that are most prone to disasters have personnel who have been hired to handle disaster related issues at the district level, although he added that capacity was still a challenge in preventing disasters and early warning systems.

Ntawukililyayo said that the government also distributed mobile phones to local leaders in some of the most disaster-prone regions, to help ensure that information about threatening disasters gets to the relevant authorities on time.

Victor Muvunyi, an Engineer with one of the Telecommunication houses said that it's not enough to see Ministers on Television running to disaster scenes when people have already perished and property destroyed.

"For instance many buildings have fire extinguishers but people don't know how to use them. In case of a fire people will try to escape out of a building instead of making use of the extinguishers. There's need to train people on how to use these tools and also bring in experts who can foresee some of these situations," he noted.

A disaster toll free line - 170 - has been set up and the public has been urged to make use of it.

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