Submerged In Corruption: How Not To Respond To Disasters By Jaye Gaskia
During the rainy season last year, the country witnessed some of the most widespread incidence of catastrophic flooding in recent memory; while Nigerians went through some of the most harrowing collective experience in our history as a result of the devastating impact of that flood.
The rains were heavy, persistent and sometimes going on for hours and or days! Rivers overflowed and so did blocked drainages! Dams under the threat of being completely submerged by the overflowing reservoirs had to have excess waters from the reservoirs flow out in controlled releases! The resultant effect of the combination of all of these had been devastating flood disasters, with more than half of the states in the federation affected to varying degrees; and with between 50 to 70% of affected states submerged in the floods!
Some 7.7 million Nigerians were affected, 2.2 million were displaced, and over 500,000 houses were destroyed, with 363 recorded fatalities.
Suddenly whole communities and swathes of local governments became cut off from the rest of the country; major roads were rendered impassable, and the aerial view of Nigeria looked like scenes expected to be seen in South East Asia, home to seasonal monsoons that wreck havoc!
17.6bn Naira in federal funds, not including state funding was released to address the disaster without assessment, without a plan. In addition to this a Flood Relief Committee was established under the leadership of the country’s richest persons to raise funds and organise relief distribution.
How much was raised by this committee, how much was raised from international partners as support by government, how much was raised by state governments; and the combined total of monetary and other resources committed to this response is neither known, nor has it been accounted for uptil this moment.
Yet we are on the brink of another flood disaster if the rain forecast by NIMET is to be taken seriously; and they ought to be taken seriously!
IMPACT OF THE DISASTER:
The impacts of the flood disaster were both immediate and medium to long term. Immediate impact have included the destruction of homes and properties leading to the displacement of millions of people across the country; the destruction of livelihoods, not just with respect to farming, poultry keeping, animal husbandry, aquaculture, fishing etc, but also with respect to small and medium scale businesses, and even some large scale businesses that lost equipments, buildings, infrastructure, warehouses etc to the floods. And of course tragically there have also been many losses of lives, as well as physical injuries to tens of thousands of people.
In the medium to long term, the impact can be even more debilitating; the toll on food security and food production is expected to be severe leading to food shortages, high food prices and compounding food insecurity. The cost of rehabilitating damaged infrastructure, as well as upgrading existing infrastructure to withstand future occurrences will also be quite high. And so also will be the cost of restoring the livelihoods of affected persons; not just in agriculture to prevent food insecurity and high costs of food stuff; but also to support the restoration of small and medium businesses and enterprises.
And given that most of the affected are already living in poverty, as well as living with vulnerabilities, their capacity to recover has been greatly undermined, making it harder to come out of poverty.
Ill health and diseases are medical impacts that have emerged in the short term, and will be around into the long term. In particular issues around trauma and mental health, as well as communicable diseases; possible increases in water borne diseases and infections need to be planned for, and these will also involve costs.
INADEQUTE AND INEFFECTIVE RESPONSES:
For all intents and purposes, this was a disaster foretold! There had been information from government owned agencies, primarily from NIMET & NEMA that the pattern of rainfall for last year raining season will be such that it will be heavy and persistent and therefore very likely to cause flooding. In addition, there were also warnings and indications that major dams both within the country and outside the country, in neighbouring countries with dams on rivers that also pass through Nigeria [in particular Rivers Niger & Benue]; would in seeking to prevent the catastrophic collapse of dams, undertake controlled release of water measures, with the likelihood of flooding in the flood plains of the dams.
Nevertheless regardless of all these existing information indicative of major flooding incidents, hardly any of the affected states and the federal government took any serious preventive and or mitigative measures and action to avert the disaster or at least reduce the scale and scope of the disaster, beyond in a few instances issuing evacuation orders/warnings to people living in low lying areas, along river banks and in flood plains. What is more? These orders and warnings were not backed with any support from government and its agencies to facilitate effective and orderly evacuation, given the level of poverty of most of those prone to the impact of the flood. At best this was a response which was devoid of any understanding and or factoring in of vulnerabilities and the necessity to support vulnerable and poor groups. It was a response not based on poverty and vulnerability analysis, on any attempt to understand the context of people that may be impacted
Furthermore with the onset of the disaster, government responses at all levels were quite slow, adhoc, and inadequate. Governments belatedly set up camps for displaced persons, without adequate facilities and protection, and without thorough assessments of the situation. Relief materials were also collected and distributed without assessments.
After which the Federal government inaugurated a committee to raise funds for the response to the flood. While the initiative to ensure that adequate funding was available for a comprehensive response is applaudable; it is important nevertheless that this ought to have been done by launching an appeal; from which NEMA and the SEMAs in particular, and communities and CSOs in general would have been able to draw funds through applications with detailed and verifiable comprehensive response plans.
LESSONS NOT LEARNED:
One of the clearest lessons from past disasters, amplified in the 2012 flood disaster, is the grossly inadequate capacities of the statutory response agencies – NEMA & SEMAs at federal and state levels; the consequence being that they become very quickly and quite easily overwhelmed when disaster strikes.
Secondly, the 2012 flood disaster also helps to amplify the question of the absence of not only a preparedness capacity, but also a disaster risk reduction capacity. Steps and measures, of infrastructural, policy, and institutional nature, required to build up such capacities and put in place measures to prevent or reduce the scale of disaster have not been, and are not being put in place.
Thirdly, the question of the framework for disaster preparedness, risk reduction and management funding has also been further amplified. What happened to, and continues to happen to the ecological fund? How is it utilized? Is there an ecological stability plan that the ecological fund is utilized to realise? How many states of the federation obligatorily budget for disaster risk reduction, preparedness and management? Does the country have at Federal level Disaster Contingency fund, and or a disaster response facility for quickly raising or accessing funds in times of disaster?
We know from recent NASS investigations that over 400bn Naira in ecological funds had been misappropriated, and utilized for purposes other than environmental and ecological purposes over the last decade alone! The flood disaster was a wake-up call not only to affected communities, but also to civil society and governments. Unfortunately it does seem that it was a wake-up call yet to be heeded. It was definitely an opportunity to launch a nationwide advocacy and campaigning for effective and adequate disaster risk reduction, preparedness and management framework, including adequate capacities and funding, at state and federal level levels. It is definitely now time and opportunity to draw attention to issues of corruption, transparency and accountability in the sector, particularly as the raining season sets in.
This can be done by supporting flood affected and flood prone communities across the country to amplify their voice and engage in the policy arena through massive campaigns by a network of such communities. People have rights in periods of emergencies, they remain human beings regardless of the situation.
Visit: takebacknigeria.blogspot.com; & on facebook: TAKE BACK NIGERIA page. Follow Jaye Gaskia on twitter: @jayegaskia
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