Some Nigerian flood victims
As the issue of Climate Change and its effect on Nigeria becomes clearer, the mitigation of natural hazard, its prevention and the response to it will test the effectiveness of Nigeria’s national emergency management.
To reduce further human suffering currently being experienced across the country, occasioned by the sweeping flood, a prominent role is expected by the nation’s National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA). It therefore pre-supposes that NEMA should have taken the centre stage in all of the flood disasters that happened while others queue behind them contributing to the efforts both financially and physically. This is what we see in other climes. It demonstrates readiness and effectiveness of an agency while it provide a showcase of a country always prepared ahead of any calamity that may befall it as a result of human activities that has now brought about climate change.
Disaster reduction in Nigeria is both possible and feasible if the available sciences and technologies related to natural hazards are properly applied. The extent to which society puts this knowledge to effective use depends firstly upon the political will of its leaders at all levels. Coping with hazards - whether natural or attributable to human activity - is one of the greatest challenges of the applications of science and technology in the 21st Century.
While governments cannot prevent an earthquake or a hurricane from occurring, or a volcano from erupting, or sea from rising, governments in other parts of the world are applying the scientific knowledge and technical know-how that are already available to increase the resistance of these natural hazards or disaster, or to issue early warnings and organize proper community response to such warnings.
Over the last three decades, scientific knowledge of the intensity and distribution in time and space of natural hazards and the technological means of confronting them have expanded greatly. The dramatic advances in understanding the causes and parameters of natural phenomena and in the techniques for resisting their forces were presented, in the mid-80s, by Dr Frank Press, a lead scientist, as the rationale which made propitious the launching of the international decade devoted to reduce significantly the consequences of natural hazards and responding to disaster.
The Resolution of the United Nations General Assembly which proclaimed the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction (1990-1999) called for a concerted worldwide effort to use the existing scientific and technical knowledge, adding new knowledge as needed, in order to underpin the adoption and implementation of public policy for disaster prevention. The International Strategy for Disaster Reduction is the successor of the Decade and provides a framework for each nation to fully utilize existing knowledge on the lithosphere, atmosphere, and biosphere and the know-how on disaster protection gained in prior years, and to build effectively and creatively upon past accomplishments so as to meet the projected needs for safer communities. While Nigerians have misconceived NEMA as a relief material sharing agency, it will be pertinent to know that the present management of NEMA has in the past two years introduced significant changes in the integrated approach to the problems of flood and other disasters in Nigeria.
Science and technology will help NEMA to understand the mechanism of natural hazards of atmospherical, geological, hydrological, and biological origins and to analyse the transformation of these hazards into disasters. But poor funding has inhibited their ability to procure modern technological equipments for proper entry. Major progress has been made in the development of the Nigeria meteorological models and their application to large scale weather prediction. The critical information currently provided on global climate change and its implication on the Nigerian environment is the fruit of this progress.
NEMA has in the past predicted flood in some areas, but considerable options exist today to make more accurate forecasts and to give warnings of several impending hazard events. Warnings of hazard events hours and days ahead would save many lives and prevent significant property losses.
While NEMA staff puts up physical efforts in disaster risk and management, science needs to be seen as part of a continuum of action extending from the design of interdisciplinary research to the communication of results to diverse non-specialist user groups.
Without science and technology, and their blending with other disciplines, there can be no world safer from natural disasters. Information about natural hazards and about the ways and means to avoid or reduce many of their effects is available. Success in significantly reducing disasters and its effect is within our reach. Now is the time for both the private sector and government to act within the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction to appreciate the onerous task ahead of NEMA by properly funding its programmes and activities for a safer and prosperous Nigeria.
•Ndubueze, an expert on emergency management and climate change wrote from Abuja.