Government must as a matter of national emergency review its approach to disaster management, writes Tobi Soniyi

A year hardly passes by without some parts of Nigeria being submerged in water as a result of devastating effects of flooding. Many lives usually are lost, while properties worth millions of naira are destroyed, leaving survivors in agony and trauma.

The experience this year has not been an exception either. Even though the raining season is still very much with around, floods had already wreaked staggering havoc across the country with Katsina and Ogun States being the hardest hit.

Getting the actual figures of those who died from flooding is usually very difficult, because it sometimes takes weeks to determine the number of those missing.

In Katsina State, not less than 52 people were reported dead and another 20 still missing, when a river burst its banks after hours of heavy rains in the early hours of Monday, affecting about 10 villages in Jibia district of the state. These figures are expected to rise in the days to come.

The remains of 24 of the victims were washed away to Mada Rumfa and Kantumi villages in neighbouring Niger Republic.
Aminu Waziri, head of the Katsina State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA), said not less than 5000 people needed temporary shelter as a result of the flooding.

In Abeokuta, the capital of Ogun State, relatives of affected victims of flood are still searching for the remains of their loved ones washed away by the flood.

Last year, the world watched as part of Benue State was submerged in flood forcing the state governor, Samuel Ortom to seek assistance from the international community.

Suffice it to admit that natural disasters are not peculiar to Nigeria alone. More so, no country has succeeded in stopping natural disaster from occurring. However, the level of preparedness differs. Nigeria as a nation is ill-equipped to tackle such natural disasters such like flooding. Necessary equipment to facilitate rescue operations is equally lacking.

The nation’s ability to identify early warning signals and take proactive measures to avoid or reduce the likely impact of disasters is either weak or non-existent at all. Response is always slow. Managing the aftermath of a disaster is equally appalling.
Thus, leaving devastated relatives alone to embark on dangerous search for their loved ones lost to flooding, amounts to abdication of role by government. The primary responsibility of government is to protect lives and properties.

The country may be unable to stop natural disasters but she can reduce the impact of such disasters. The first step to achieving this is to be proactive. For instance emergency agencies such as National Emergency Management Agency should be mandated to identify, in each state, terrains that are prone to flooding and other natural disasters and recommend steps to be taken by states and the federal government to prevent disasters.

Actions such as these might include evacuating people from the terrain or undertaking necessary construction works to reduce the impact of a disaster in the event that it happens. Identifying early warning signals and issuing necessary advisory will help to reduce the impact of disasters when they happen.

Other states must borrow a leaf from Lagos State that has overtime developed a working plan to respond to natural disasters. The swiftness with which Lagos State Governor, Akinwunmi Ambode responded to the fuel-laden truck that exploded on top of Otedola Bridge in Lagos recently is one such efforts that other states must emulate.

The governor led emergency workers, who worked through the night. Anyone who got to the scene of the accident the next day would find it difficult to believe the accident actually happened there!

At every strategic point in Lagos state, you will find ambulance stationed there to response to emergencies. The federal government and other states should stop being reactive. They should recognise the fact that the present approach to disaster management is not working and must therefore change it.

As it is now, when disasters happen, government merely makes promises that would not be fulfilled and then wait till the following year for another disaster to happen, only to adopt the same ineffective approach.

On Tuesday, Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo visited Katsina to sympathise with the state. He made the following promises: “We are working with the state government to make sure that all of what is required to make these places safe is done so that the drainage is clear and all of the necessary drainage facilities are provided, and where people are building on drainage, we’ll also make sure that we relocate them so that they are not building on drainage anymore.”

With due respect to the learned Vice President, all the promises he made are likely not going to be fulfilled. Without a fundamental shift in the approach to disaster management, nothing is going to change.

Many states don’t have emergency lines that people can call when disasters happen. In Ijaye, Abeokuta, people watched helplessly as the flood swept away victims of flood. Even if there were emergency numbers, it is doubtful if the state has trained enough manpower and the required equipment to respond. Most states don’t.

Disasters will always happen. But the country can be proactive in her response to them. Leadership must be prepared for the worst, while hoping for the best. Thus, the country can certainly get better with her readiness to respond to emergency situations.