24 December 2012

Nigeria: Yuletide - NEMA Cautions Against Disasters

Photo: Leadership
Nigerian police on standby.

Abuja — Barely two months after parts of the country were ravaged by floods, the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) has advised Nigerians to play safe and avoid practices that will endanger their lives especially during the festive period.

The agency said it has activated its emergency Search and Rescue Teams to be on full alert in the event of any emergency situation during the yuletide season.

Speaking during an interactive session with journalists at the weekend in Abuja, the Director General of NEMA, Alhaji Muhammed Sani-Sidi, said another flood disaster could be inevitable if proactive measures were not taken to put things right.

The agency which expressed concern over the apparent lack of emergency management mechanism at both the state and local council levels, said a lot people residing on flood plain areas have gone back to the areas.

He said though water has receded from most of the flooded areas, there is no guarantee that it will not come back even with devastation as the next rainy season sets in.

"We might still find ourselves in a similar situation because now we have people going back to the flood plane area and when the flood disaster comes again, it will still affect them. The flood plain is a natural water way and you cannot just go and block it and you expect that it will flow there," he said.

He said the best thing to be done is to put pressure on those who are in these areas to relocate to avoid a possible repeat of the flood disaster.

Sani-Sidi said NEMA is proposing a national mitigation and adaptation strategy that will ensure that the three tiers of government participates actively in implementing measures to reduce the impact of disasters occurrence.

"With the present challenge posed by climate change, Nigeria needs to undertake adequate mitigation and adaptation strategy. We need to have a national adaptation strategy because what you cannot change or avoid, you live with it.

"We are taking the campaign to the door steps of those who are in decision- making position, we do not have to wait until the flood disaster happens again.

Now that we are done with the flood and the water appeared to have receded, we have to mount sensitisation with the media to get the people to do the right thing on time before the next rainy season sets in," he said.

Following the wide scale damage caused by the flood, NEMA said.

There is need for all stakeholders, including states and local councils to join hands in implementing a sustainable mitigation and adaptation programme that will improve the country's capacity to respond to disaster incidents.

Based on the experience from the last flood incident, the Director General said most of the state governments were caught napping because they did not have in place any effective emergency response structure.

"Lack of the State Emergency Management Agency and that of the local council area have posed a huge challenge to the effort at controlling and managing disasters in the country. The states and local councils are supposed to be the first to respond to disasters happening at the community levels before seeking national intervention. But unfortunately, what we have today is that most states do not have the SEMAs and where it exists, they are mostly on paper.

"You will be surprised that in some states, you only have advisers on disaster management who does not even have an office or vehicle. So how does he function?

According to the Director General, apart from Lagos and a few others, there are probably no other states with functional emergency management outfit.

He further said that the Act establishing NEMA provided that there will be state and local government area versions of it, adding that in an ideal scenario, local councils and states should have a functioning emergency management units that would assist NEMA.

Apart from having disaster agencies at the local levels, Sani Sidi also spoke on the need for sophisticated equipment to help to manage disaster properly.

He explained that in terms of manpower, the country already has one of the best trained personnel in Africa as far as disaster management is concerned.

Another area, he expressed worry was the continued absence of a dedicated phone line to cater to emergency situations.

He said NEMA would like to use the opportunity to remind the National Communications Commission (NCC) on the need to see that the three digit emergence phone line for disaster emergencies is made possible.

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