As Nigeria continues to grapple with numerous challenges on all fronts, ranging from terrorism, militancy, kidnapping, herdsmen attacks, floods, malnutrition, HIV/AIDS, tremors and so on, Kasim Sumaina writes on the need for stakeholders to reduce disasters amongst communities

The Oxford Dictionary succinctly puts disaster as a very bad situation that causes problems; an unexpected event, such as a very bad accident, a flood or a fire, that kills a lot of people or causes a lot of damage.

Policy Guides
In accordance with its statutory mandate of coordinating the management of all emergencies in the country, the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) has developed various policy documents to guide disaster risk reduction, disaster response, and recovery.

Identification of the elements at risk and vulnerable groups that are likely to be most affected by disasters is the first step in assessing disaster impacts and determining recovery needs. Enhancing Nigeria’s capability to recover from emergencies requires implementing recovery planning and programming activities in communities and across four inter-linked spaces that denoted the categories of impacts that communities and individuals have to recover from: humanitarian, social, economic, natural and built environments.

Local Vulnerabilities
According to the Guidance on Emergency Recovery, Nigeria is extremely vulnerable to droughts, floods, landslides, gully erosion and windstorms. Droughts, it says, affect more people but flooding is the most frequent hazard. Droughts are most common in Sudano-Sahelian areas (such as in Borno, Yobe, Adamawa, Gombe, Sokoto, Bauchi, Katsina, Kano, Gombe, Kebbi and Zamfara states).

Flooding along the Niger River and its tributaries affects large parts of the population living along the river and is also becoming frequent in major urban centres such as Lagos, Port Harcourt, Kano and Ibadan. Landslides and extreme gully erosion impacts infrastructure and livelihoods of parts of South-eastern Nigeria with Anambra State being the most affected. Other disasters include disease outbreaks and epidemics, such as cholera, malaria, meningitis, measles, Lassa fever, yellow fever and more recently the Avian influenza virus (H5N1) in 2015.

The country has also experienced many cases of collapsed buildings in some major cities including, Abuja, Lagos and Port Harcourt; terrorism, militancy amongst others. Experience with recent disaster recovery efforts in Nigeria highlights the need for additional guidelines, structures and support to improve on how the nation must address disaster recovery challenges.

The 2012 flood disaster in Nigeria resulted in human, material and economic losses, with 363 people killed, another 5,851 injured, while 7,705,398 were affected and 2,157,419 persons were displaced. In like manner, conflicts and terrorism have caused widespread damages, loss of lives, properties and the environment.

Needful Response
Response to these disasters, the Director General of NEMA, Muhammed Sani Sidi, noted, in form of relief, is not sufficient. “There is the need to strengthen our strategies, plans and operations for effective disaster risk reduction, recovery and resilient building. This we hope to do through the National Disaster Recovery Strategy and Framework,” he added.

The aforementioned cases prompted the NEMA to explain recently that the national disaster profile over the years shows that Nigeria is bedeviled with varied and multiple hazards, some cutting across geopolitical boundaries, while others are peculiar to specific areas. These hazards have resulted in disasters due to the activities of man that increased the vulnerability of the population. The frequency and magnitude of disasters have therefore become sources of concern.

The Director General, while delivering his speech at the 2016 International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction, disclosed that the event provides the opportunity to discuss the overarching global challenge of disaster reduction; brainstorming on how to encourage and bring all partners together to advance this cause. He added that disaster can happen and harped on the need to ensure that no citizen of the country dies as a result of any form of disaster.

Sidi noted that the combination of natural hazards and vulnerability pose a constant threat to both lives and livelihoods as the world is witnessing a rapidly increasing impact of disasters with unacceptable impacts in mortality indices.

According to him, malaria, pneumonia, diarrhoea, measles, HIV/AIDS account for more than 70 per cent estimated deaths in Nigeria, adding that every single day, Nigeria loses thousands of under-five-year-olds and hundreds of women of child-bearing age. This makes the country the second largest contributor to the under-five and maternal mortality rate in the world.

He stressed the need to focus on the seven targets of the new Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction in Nigeria and the world at large, adding that this year’s theme would dwell on the first target seeking to create a wave of awareness about actions that need to be taken to reduce mortality around the world. “It is no denial that the threat from natural disasters is urgent and need immediate concerted attention”, Sidi said.

Profile and Tips
The national disaster profile over the years shows that Nigeria is bedeviled with varied and multiple hazards, some cutting across geopolitical boundaries, while others are peculiar to specific areas. The frequency and magnitude of disasters in the country have therefore become sources of concern.

“Our response to this challenge will ensure the protection and well-being of our future generation who are present here. This is building resilience on a sustainable platform. Nigeria also faces security challenges from several causes, including from micro nationalism, ethnic, religious and communal conflicts, and civil disturbances”, Sidi said.

He emphasised that, “stakeholders need to create awareness on a sustainable basis especially around the communities so that we can build the resilience for the communities to be able to meet up with the challenges of disasters. We need to mitigate these disasters.”
To this end, Sidi said, the 2016 international day for disaster risk reduction, “provides the opportunity to discuss the overarching global challenge of disaster reduction; brainstorming on how to encourage and bring all partners together to advance this cause.”

“To develop a culture of disaster risk reduction in Nigeria in which communities and institutions understand the risks from and vulnerability to hazards and prepare with coordinated capabilities to prevent, protect against, respond to, and recover from all hazards in a way that balances risk with resources and need.
“It is pertinent to know that stakeholders involved in recovery need to recognise that successful recovery depends on their commitment to providing the human and material resources and services required during medium and long term recovery.

“And that effective response to and recovery from emergencies require preparedness capacity and that the impacts of and capabilities to recover from disasters differ in different communities, that costs of recovery should be weighed against needs and resources because it is not possible to recover from all possible contingencies”.

To him, “The appropriateness of response to and recovery from a disaster is determined by a range of factors. Nonetheless, effective recovery is underpinned by a set of basic principles that should apply at all levels that include anticipation, preparedness, subsidiarity, direction, information, integration, cooperation and continuity.”
The DG further explained that the strategic considerations for recovery should be early establishment of a transition strategy, from response to early recovery, to ensure the appropriate withdrawal of response functions and activities.

He canvassed an approach that is consistent with the level of residual risk, recovery issues and priorities by adopting a holistic approach to recovery inclusive of social, economic, infrastructure and environmental considerations.

He added that for effective management of disasters, relief, recovery and development must be linked seamlessly. However, the three types of interventions should be perceived to be simultaneous and contiguous, rather than linear or sequential aspects of transition from relief to development. This is because disaster affected communities, organisations and individuals do not divide a disaster situation into different phases as they are concerned with an ongoing cycle of tackling shocks and uncertainties, Sidi noted.

As defined by the Consultative Working Group on Early Recovery (CWGER 2008), early recovery is a multidimensional process of recovery that begins in a humanitarian setting. It is guided by development principles that seek to build on humanitarian programmes and catalyze sustainable development opportunities that also aim to generate self-sustaining, nationally-owned, resilient processes for post crisis recovery. This is what Nigeria needs to adopt and implement, Sidi added.