Preventable Disasters

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Regulating agencies should be alive to their responsibilities

Reports from the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) indicate an alarming rate of cases of disasters in the country. But the question remains as to what the authorities are doing to avert these disasters, especially when many of them are actually preventable.

Given the prevailing weather condition, fire has accounted for most of the disasters that have killed many Nigerians and rendered many more homeless. Vehicular accidents have also resulted in huge balls of fire that have consumed lives and property. Also high on the list is building collapse, a phenomenon that is gaining notoriety in virtually all parts of the country. When you add these to the hundreds of lives lost every day to armed robbers, kidnappers, insurgents and sundry criminal cartels, you get the picture of a nation in serious crisis. But the concerns today are preventable disasters.

Several reports have shown that these disasters occur largely due to human errors, most of them arising from failure to abide by basic rules and regulations established by extant town planning and physical development laws. Most buildings are not built in accordance with safety regulations. Few buildings, for instance, have water sprinklers or fire extinguishers at strategic and accessible points for use in case of fire outbreak. Yet many building entrances are not wide enough for fire engines to access in the event of fire incidence.

While non-compliance with safety regulations might have been largely due to ignorance as many citizens do not engage the services of qualified professionals to handle the construction of their property, there is considerable evidence of lack of diligence by property developers who compromise standards in a despicable effort to cut corners in order to reduce costs. Either way, it is the failure of enforcement of regulations that has led to most of the disasters.

For instance, town planning officials are required by law to monitor physical development and ensure that building codes and safety standards are complied with at every stage of construction. In the same way, road traffic regulators, including the Police and the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) are mandated to ensure compliance with traffic regulations not just on speed limits but also on axial load, particularly of articulated vehicles.

All over the country today, what is found generally is that regulatory authorities are more reactive than proactive when it comes to dealing with critical issues, including those involving lives. Most of the security and regulator agencies prefer to arrest criminals rather than prevent the commission of such crimes. Meanwhile, even its reactive approach to enforcement is fraught with unbearable inefficiency given response time to distress calls. The result is that lives and property worth millions of naira are usually lost before the intervention of the management agencies.

Going forward, therefore, we recommend that the reactive approach to enforcement of regulations must change if the nation is to fundamentally check the spate of disasters enveloping it. Regulatory agencies need to apply the rules in accordance with extant laws that require them to provide effective supervision of physical development at every stage of construction. After all, as the old dictum says, prevention is always better than cure.

We therefore also consider it necessary for the various regulatory agencies and disaster management bodies to collaborate and embark on a massive public enlightenment on safety regulations, dangers of non-compliance and basic steps to take in the event of an untoward occurrence. This will help to secure the buy-in of the people and encourage the development of a culture of voluntary compliance, which will lessen the task of the regulatory bodies and draw the curtain on the increasing spate of disasters plaguing the country.