Sunday, December 30, 2012

Africa 'unprepared to manage disasters'

Residents of the flood-hit village of Kagarar Rima in Nigeria's Sokoto state flee their flooded village on September 27, 2010. Africa remains unprepared to deal with natural disasters, analysts say.  
While Kenya prepares to vote in its largest number of representatives in a March 2013 general election, Senegal has been working to scrap its 100-seat Senate, mainly to free up money for emergencies.
The West African nation has in recent years been regularly affected by heavy flooding, threatening its development. Environmentalists and humanitarians said abolishing the Senate would free up $15 million annually to counter the effects of such disasters and improve the country's infrastructure.
Political undertones aside, the move has been cited as a step in the right direction in disaster risk reduction and management in Senegal and a lesson other African countries could pick up, with data from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) showing that more than 1.5 million people in West and Central Africa were affected by heavy rains in July and August.
Some 90 per cent of those affected were citizens of Niger, Chad, Senegal and Nigeria.
Nigeria’s national emergency management agency is grappling with the worst flooding that the country has experienced in over 40 years, having affected 30 states, killed 431 people and displaced 1.3 million others.

With other climate-related disasters such as drought and even famine continuing to ravage the continent-- the World Bank estimates that almost 20 million people are affected by hunger in the Sahel--the spotlight is turning to the continent's ability to mitigate against disasters.
Still fail
Disaster risk reduction for Africa has been tackled at both regional and sub-regional levels but many countries have still fail to craft strong policies and response systems at their national level.
In an interview with Africa Review, the head of the UNISDR regional office, Pedro Basabe, said that many countries had failed to set up budgetary allocations towards building their own resilience.
"There is hardly any allocation for disaster risk reduction or mitigation and at best slim budgetary provisions are given by some governments,” he said.
The recently released 2012 world risk report notes that 13 out of the 15 most vulnerable countries globally are African, solely because of their low coping and adaptive ability in the event of disasters.
Though early warning systems in the continent are lacking and need improvement, there is also a need to fill the void between the dissemination of this information and the ability to act on it.
Only 25 African countries have established national policies and strategies for risk reduction and worse, only 13 have set aside funds from their national budget towards this cause.
Countries like South Africa and Gambia have set up their own national policies and committed funds from their budgets to strengthening vulnerable sectors like agriculture, while nations like Kenya still lag behind.
"We ail from the lack of political goodwill to improve on the early warning systems and translate the policy frameworks to reach local communities in order to build their resilience,” Mr Basabe said.
According to available data, 80 per cent of internally displaced persons globally due to disasters are women and children. This vulnerability, the regional head says, is something that countries need to focus on when setting up both response and recovery systems.
Public awareness
"In the cultural setting, these groups have little entitlement to property and more needs to be done to protect them against the effects of a devastating drought or flash floods," said Mr Basabe.
Africa’s action plan calls for the integration of risk reduction measures into emergency response management plans and for an increase in public awareness of these systems.
The IGAD regional bloc for example recognises that most of the region’s disasters are climate related thus the setup of the IGAD climate and application centre (ICPAC) that acts as an early warning system .
"Many countries fail to act on the information provided, the indications of the drought in the horn of Africa were received as early as September 2010 but no early action was taken until images of hungry women and children were splashed all over the media,” said Mr Basabe.
Most governments often respond to disasters with emergency measures picking into their financial reserves, and in severe cases borrowing from other nations.
African countries individually need to focus on establishing comprehensive disaster risk reduction management plans complete with mitigation, response and recovery systems that are well funded.

A paradigm shift from the current firefighting system would better shield African economies from the losses of replacing infrastructure damaged by natural hazards such as floods and earthquakes.
SADC’s risk reduction plan for 2012 to 2014, for instance, seeks to strengthen the sub region’s disaster preparedness for effective responses at all levels with a community-based approach.

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