The year 2012 has come with a lot of challenges for the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA). Our correspondent takes a look at the state of preparedness of the country in managing emergency situations.
Since this January, 363 people have been reported dead out of over seven million affected by floods across the country. This was the official figure released by the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) as of November 5.
According to the agency, "363 persons died while 18, 282 people were treated for injuries sustained during the flooding. A total of 7,705, 398 persons were affected by the flood between July 1, 2012 and October 31, 2012. Out of the affected population, 2,157,419 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) were registered across the affected states".
The agency added that "Adamawa and Kogi states recorded higher figures of casualties, and a total of "56 local government councils throughout the federation" affected.
NEMA also later issued another devastating figure saying in one day, 150 people were killed in a crash involving a McDonnell Douglas MD-83 plane in June.
On August 30, NEMA said that 57 pregnant women were among those living at an Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camp in Adamawa State alone.
From the outset, before the flooding, the Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NIMET) had raised alarm over the impending flood disaster. Thereafter, NEMA said it took over campaigns to save lives by first formally alerting all the state governors for precautionary actions.
Could the lost lives have been saved?
It seems that the alarm raised did not make any impact because the people in the areas affected by flood did not move an inch until the flood came and sacked them. All the evacuations and resettlements came after the flooding.
In many communities, people had to wait for the flood to recede because governments at various levels did not provide alternative accommodation for the victims. For instance, some of the victims in Kogi State lamented in October that, "we had to wait for the flood to come and wait here at the bank for it to wash away our houses and then rebuild the structures and go back because we do not have any place to go. Government never provided us with permanent alternatives."
Government at various levels, like the victims, appeared to have folded their arms and watched the flood sack many communities before they acted, such that hundreds of victims had to take refuge at primary or secondary schools - a situation that made many of the schools to be shut down while the disaster lasted.
How efficient is NEMA?
In terms of prompt and physical response to disasters, going by media reports, NEMA could be commended. The agency has only one emergency helicopter used for fire and other related disasters. It also has some boats for rescue operations during flooding. Unfortunately, the helicopter is grounded though the federal government has approved one additional helicopter. Also, there was no emergency boat but only a symbolic one kept in the agency's store in Abuja.
During the flood disaster, particularly in Kogi State, NEMA had to engage the services of commercial canoe owners for its search and rescue operations. The agency also sought the intervention of the Nigerian Navy for the same purpose.
NEMA Director-General Sani Sidi was once quoted as saying that, "while NEMA, too, employs the services of local owners for rescue and evacuation of trapped victims, we pay exorbitantly to recruit the services of local canoe owners, but the job is necessary. We have to do it."
The agency has only six zonal offices and one operation office throughout the federation. Ironically, these zonal offices were not situated in the areas worst hit by flood; a situation that made the agency to mobilize officers from neighboring states where its offices were located. Sometimes, it takes these officers about one hour to arrive at the scene of the disaster.
For instance, NEMA has no office in Kogi, Kwara, and Niger States. During the flood disaster, the agency had to deploy its officers from Abuja office. The Port Harcourt regional office was responding to disasters in Edo, Bayelsa and Delta States; Kaduna regional office was responding to Jigawa, Katsina, Sokoto and Kano states; while Borno and Jos offices were taking care of Adamawa, Bauchi and Taraba States.
Any hope for Nigerians?
"In disaster management, we strongly believe everyone has a role to play," this is the general belief of the NEMA management. It is not certain that there is any significant hope in 2013 given the fact that the agency lacks adequate human resources and necessary equipment. The 2013 budget did not make any provision for the acquisition of more boats and helicopters and neither did it provide for the establishment of more offices.
Most of the state governments seem to be running away from their responsibilities in terms of disaster management. At present, many of the states do not have a standard structure for tackling disasters. States heavily relied on NEMA whenever disaster strikes.
However, on its part, the agency is now tilting towards public enlightenment and awareness campaign through seminars and training and volunteers from NYSC and youth organizations. This is because it believes that "Disaster is everybody's business".
The agency also always admonishes people to be more proactive in responding to disaster warnings. "We should avoid buildings on waterways and flood plains. Regulatory bodies should also rise to their responsibilities in close and adequate monitoring of abusers and defaulters against our environments", the NEMA boss once warned. He had also called on people living in vulnerable areas to move to higher grounds or to neighbouring communities.