I am honoured to welcome you all to this very important launching ceremony. We live in a global village, and we are part and parcel of the benefits and challenges inherent in our membership of the global community.
A major global challenge today is managing disasters, which are becoming increasingly common. Actions in one part of the globe may cause disasters in another region, and this region may end up being ours.
Others may come to our aid, but we must be prepared, we must be proactive, we must be the first line of action in disaster management in our own corner of the village.
Before this period, Sierra Leone was actually not named among countries that are at-risk to, particularly, natural and human-induced (Man-made) disasters.
However, there has been a sharp drift from that initial global assessment. Recent records have shown a sharp upsurge in the trend of disaster related incidents in terms of frequency, magnitude and severity. We lose souls and properties worth millions of Leones every year, especially in the rainy season.
Just to use the most recent record of 2011 and 2012, over twenty (20) souls were lost to flood related disaster events. Just last year, ladies and gentlemen, the Disaster Management Department (DMD), Office of National Security (ONS) recorded seven (7) deaths - five in Congo Town, one(1) at Wellington and one at Dworzark following torrential rains in August in just one night.
In another development, two school-going pupils died of mudslide and rock-fall, one school-going boy died at Hill Cut Road following the collapse of a dangerously constructed three storey building, and one lady - a mother of four - died of flooding at No. 9 area of Babadorie, Lumley.
Cases of fire outbreaks consuming villages and towns have been on the increase too. Just this year, we have recorded over nineteen (19) reported cases of bush fire gutting down homes and properties, including food stuff; and also severely disrupting the livelihoods of our people.
Windstorms have been devastating to about ten (10) towns and villages in the last two months. We need to meet the challenges posed by these incidents head-on, and this means having national and local level preparedness mechanisms in place.
In fact, even at global and regional levels, emphases are being placed on the preventative and mitigation aspects, and that of preparing for response.
Rather than having an adhoc approach to dealing with disasters and related emergencies, we must base our strategies on a more proactive stance.
This is the strategy that is guiding our approach to disaster management. Beginning with the 'Agenda for Change' that we are now rolling into an Agenda for Prosperity, the provision of the enabling environment to promote human security and poverty reduction at national and local levels is a critical focus area of my government.
In August, 2011, my government launched the Disaster Preparedness Fund here at the Miatta Conference Centre. That fund was however mainly used for response activities.
While this government remains committed to ensuring its sustainability, I have called you all here today to witness the launch of the National Disaster Relief and Emergency Response Fund (NDRERF).
Ladies and gentlemen, by way of demonstrating my government's ardent commitment to promoting a safe and secure environment, we are very committed to achieving the five pillars of the Hyogo Framework for Action - 2005 - 2015.
This framework calls for increasing political commitment & establishment of institutions at all levels; identification, assessment, monitoring of risks to enhance early warning; using knowledge, education, innovation to build a culture of resilience; integrating DRR into key sectors to reduce the underlying risks factors; and strengthening preparedness for Effective Response.
We will definitely achieve these goals.
In a bid to reinforce the existing early warning systems in the country, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), through the Sierra Leone Red Cross Society (SLRCS), the DMD/ONS and partners have introduced the TERA (Trilogy Emergency Relief Application) system as a result of partnership between Trilogy International Partners and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
This system allows the Red Cross to send SMS directly to people's phones based on their geographical location, providing Early Warning information on disease prevention, weather warnings and/or imminent disasters, etc. and guiding them on what to do to save lives.
TERA was first introduced in Haiti while responding to the earthquake disaster that struck them in 2010. Let me hasten to inform you all that Sierra Leone is the world's second nation to host TERA and the first ever in Sub-Sahara Africa. No other disaster warning system is capable of reaching large numbers of people in such a short space of time and in such a direct, personal way.
The IFRC will be launching this emergency SMS system in 40 countries over the next five years. Now, using an online gateway, SLRCS can target SMS providing health and disaster preparedness information to geographical locations. The system can also be used to ask for information and feedback.
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, I am particularly proud to be the grand launcher of the National Disaster Relief and Emergency Response Fund (NDRERF). We are providing seed money for this fund and you will be informed of the account details at the Bank of Sierra Leone.
However, launching this seed fund is just one step, but ensuring its sustainability is very important and, therefore, requires our concerted efforts.
It means having you here present and even those who are not here today invest in DRM and DRR and help build our nation's resilience to natural and/or human-induced disasters.
Preparing for disasters is always the most appropriate way of managing disasters and related emergencies. Our country is on the move; we must therefore act to sustain and protect our development by supporting disaster preparedness.
I thank you for your attention.