NEMA: Disaster situations in 2011 and beyond

The year 2011 wrapped up on disastrous note with the occurrences of separate deadly explosions on Christmas morning that claimed many lives in Madala, near Abuja and Damaturu in Yobe State.

Black curtain drew over the grim year which had earlier dawned with similar explosive situations at the Mummy market of Mogadishu Cantonment, Abuja and in Jos, Plateau State as well as several other disasters in-between to make it one of the most challenging in recent time.  The blasts at the Mogadishu Cantonment actually occurred on the eve of the 2011, taking the people by surprise and raising fears about the future.

Explosions
There were further unfortunate incidents that resulted in human and material losses in Abuja with the separate blasts that rocked the Nigerian Police Force Headquarters, United Nations House and some other isolated locations including Kaduna, Maiduguri, Yobe, Delta and Gombe. Although pre-emptive responses to these lied primarily with the security agencies, the humanitarian aspects of providing assistance to those affected were adequately addressed through the immediate deployment of disaster managers led by the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) and other stakeholders. No amount of aftermath responses could have been enough but it was necessary to pacify conditions of the affected persons including cases of fatalities as they were promptly taken to medical facilities.  

Communal Clashes
Communal clashes which is one of the common human induced disaster was also witnessed in some parts of the country during the year 2011. Closely related was the political incident of violence that erupted around the period of the April General Elections. Hundreds to thousands families were affected in some of the violent clashes. These were the unfortunate experience in communities in Cross River, Bauchi, Kaduna and Plateau states among others. As often in such situations, some lives and property were lost as well as large number of displacements. NEMA visited some of the affected communities to provide some relief materials and other necessary assistance.

Displaced People
There was the complex task of managing the situation of large turnout of the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) which is part of disaster management. Thus emergency camps were opened to provide them temporary shelters. NEMA was successful in deploying all-inclusive strategies through which all relevant agencies and organizations were mobilized in addressing the plights of the IDPs. Director General NEMA Alhaji Muhammad Sani Sidi was very passionate about the conditions of the IDPs. He personally visited many of the camps and ensured adequate provision of the necessary assistance including medical aids and security to them. With time and after the IDPs had been stabilized, the camps were handed over to the various states government to conclude the re-integration of the people back to their lives.  

Aviation
Although the year 2011 was one of the safest and best in the aviation sector, there were crashes of two light planes in Kaduna and Osun States. Two persons lost their lives in the Kaduna crash. The Director General NEMA personally led its team to the site and coordinated the response operations. Three persons reportedly died from the crash in Osun state which involved a helicopter. Though this occurred in a difficult terrain on top of a mountain, NEMA team was able to locate the site and evacuated bodies of the victims. These prompted aviation stakeholders meeting called by NEMA where it emphasized the need for mandatory use of emergency alerts systems to be installed in all aircrafts that fly Nigerian airspace to enable swift responses to distress situations.

Foreign Evacuations
Many Nigerians stranded in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya by the violent political crises that broke out in the North African countries were successfully evacuated back home. A presidential directive was given for the immediate evacuation operations carried out by NEMA in line with its mandates. Within 72 hours of the directive, the first batch of the stranded citizens had landed in Abuja as the DG NEMA was able to activate the necessary procedures for the exercises that involved several organizations including the ministry of foreign affairs, Nigerian Immigration Service, security agencies, etc. The International Organisation on Migration IOM, an agency under the United Nations (UN) also collaborated with NEMA in the evacuation processes.

Over ten thousand Nigerians were successfully evacuated back home at the end of the operations which lasted for several weeks. These were local residents, students and transit travellers whose safety were seriously compromise having caught up in the protests. Beside the flights that brought them back, necessary arrangements were made in the treatment of the sick and wounded among the returnees as local transportation were made available in taking them to their various homes after been fed on arrival.

Flood
Perhaps, flood was one of the worst natural disasters that devastated many communities in the year 2011. Though, the early alert over this was actually given by the DG NEMA when he warned that the weather predictions for the year were indicative of the disaster which may occur in many parts of the country.   Not many of the flood proned communities took the warning serious. Some of the areas that actually heeded the warning and prepared ahead also suffered the same fate as the volume of the water that overflowed overwhelmed their capacities in destroying lives and property. The waves of the disaster spread across many communities in several states. It was the disaster that prompted the DG NEMA to abandon his religious obligation while performing the Lesser Hajj in Saudi Arabia to return and personally coordinate the relief efforts during the flood in Ibadan. The situation also received attention of the President Dr Goodluck Jonathan who also personally visited Oyo state.

The experience from efforts in addressing the disasters that occurred in 2011 has become a great lesson for disaster managers in the year 2012. This prompted the agency’s staff to redouble their efforts in preparing ahead for more efficiency and effectiveness in responses to disasters situations. In spite of global efforts at addressing the issues of climate change, most of the challenges caused by the phenomenon are yet to abate. Erratic climate conditions, rise in rainfall and water level desertification and land degradation continues to increase the trends of disaster occurrences.

Conferences and Workshops on DRR
Realising the importance of training and capacity building that could empower stakeholders on Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) strategies, the National Emergency Management Agency, organised series of conferences, seminars and workshop where participants were mostly drawn from response agencies. In addition local emergency volunteers including youth corps members and students were also beneficiaries of the programme.

In order to prevent the reoccurrence of the massive climate related disasters in the year, NEMA organised regional workshops on climate change and disaster risk management in some selected cities in each geopolitical zones. The workshop brought together stakeholders in disaster management from the communities, local, state, federal government, academia and development partners who developed action plans for combating the hazards.

Collaborations
As a coordinating agency for disaster and emergency related issues in Nigeria, in 2010, NEMA strengthened it collaborative efforts of stakeholders and partners locally and internationally. For instance, the Media and Information Committee on Emergency Management which is hosted by NEMA and ha
membership from other agency like the military, police, road safety, civil defence, fire service and Red Cross had proposed several strategies for effective advocacy and sensitization campaigns on disaster management.

There were also various collaborations with international bodies towards disaster management in the country. The Director General of the NEMA led a delegation to Dakar Senegal where the agency and the World Food Programme (WFP) signed a new Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to promote and strengthen cooperation through the development of technical cooperation towards a significant contribution to the reinforcement of emergency preparedness and response capacity in all tiers of government as heavy flooding looms in some states in Nigeria.

As cholera epidemic claimed some lives in Nigeria, the agency also spearheaded collaboration with United States Africa Command (US-Africom) to give Nigeria a planned response programme for addressing and containing outbreak of pandemic in the country. The initiative was disclosed when a delegation from US-Africom led by Coordinator of Pandemics Response Programme of US Africa Command, Erik Threet paid a visit to DG NEMA in Abuja.

Early Warning Alerts
Many communities were at risk of natural disasters. As early as January 2011, NEMA successfully mounted a campaign against likely flood disasters in some state. Warnings on threats of erosions in some communities were relayed to their respective states governments. Apart from using appropriate official channels, the media were also effectively used for the campaign especially on anticipated flooding in some Northern and southern states and on devastating gully erosion in Auchi, Etsako West local Government in Edo state.

Relief Distribution
The Agency had distributed relief materials in bringing succour to victims of various disasters in the country. There is virtually no significant disaster that can be said to overwhelmed states’ capability or resources that the Agency had not responded by providing relief materials to the victims. the zonal offices of NEMA ensured the process of direct distribution of the relief materials to victims with the active collaboration of the states and other stakeholders. Some of the beneficiaries of the relief interventions include victims of major fire incidents, communal clashes, bomb blasts, flood, erosions, and communicable diseases among others.

New Initiatives
The Director General of NEMA had disclosed towards the end of 2011 that while the agency was able to and execute and improve on its mandates, it was working towards studying and implementing some of initiatives recommended to it by MICEM. Some of the recommendations included: Award for commitment to disaster management, Establishment of Additional Operational Offices, Establishment of Centre for Disaster and Emergency Management (CDEM), adequate funding of Call Centre and Dedicated phone numbers, Refocusing Volunteerism in disaster management, Media partnership, Reactivation of Rehabilitation Mandate.

As we enter the Year 2012, all eyes are on the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) on the challenges of disaster management. From all indication, the future is bright as its promises to remain more proactive and committed to its statutory mandates.

Manzo Ezekiel
Press and Public Relations Division
National Emergency Management Agency
6 Ademola Adetokunbo Crescent, Maitama, Abuja
08028419313, [email protected]

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