In the last couple of weeks, the different agencies saddled with the responsibility of protecting lives, properties, and the environment have all been issuing warnings to the public on the likelihood of fire outbreaks as harmattan approaches. It is common knowledge that the harmattan does not only herald cold weather but that it also brings with it very dry winds that are capable of enflaming untended embers into raging fires that can easily get out of control causing destruction of lives and property.
The rate of fire incidences is known to be quite high during this period and though this theory is as old as time itself, people simply ignore it and continue to engage in activities detrimental to the safety of the environment. One of the most common activities that contribute to fire incidence other than bush burning is the quest for warmth by people in the rural and suburban communities through the use of red hot coal to warm rooms and living areas. This is a particularly common practice in the core north where the harmattan can be quite severe. An additional source of threat is from fuel hawkers who store the product indiscriminately: in sleeping quarters and living areas endangering lives and property of all within the vicinity.
The different agencies especially the fire fighting agency has, in addition to public warnings, have been displaying their levels of preparedness and trying to assure the public of their readiness for any such eventuality. There has been televised displays of their level of preparedness and, in some instances, radio messages including contact numbers and how best to reach them. The point of consideration here is the depth and breadth of outreach, what percentage of those people most endangered is being reached by this media campaign. This is particularly important as those people who indulge in the practice of warming their abodes with naked flames and red hot coal are in the rural and suburban communities, they really have little alternative to the practice.
In our opinion, what is required is a holistic approach that will go beyond the present state of preparation. Such should be an all encompassing campaign that will involve every stakeholder. The campaign should get the buy-in of the people by ensuring that it is able to awaken and sensitise them on the dangers of such activities and actions. They must be informed on how much these create the conditions for the occurrence of fire incidence, how it can be avoided as well as alternative to what may appear to be an only choice presently.
We are of the view that the long term solution to this constant threat that comes with the harmattan season lies in preventive measures rather than in the preparations for actions to deal with it after it has occurred. The trauma after the incidence cannot be compensated or be made up for; this is why it is important to prevent it from happening at all.