Monday, July 25, 2011

Overcoming Nigeria’s disaster management challenges

There is no gainsaying the fact that Nigeria is faced with serious disaster management challenges. Frequently, the nation witnesses one disaster or the other. On Sunday, July 10, 2011 there was flash flood occasioned by a torrential rain that fell for about 15 hours in Lagos causing massive damage to lives and property; there have been recurrent collapse of buildings in many of our major cities with Lagos topping the list, that too has led to avoidable deaths of hundreds of people as well as huge economic loss. From the Nigeria Fire Service comes the report that no fewer than 990 lives were lost in 7,129 fire incidents in the country in 2010 just as property worth over N53m were destroyed during the same period.

The Federal Road Safety Commission road crash data for 2010 shows that 2,441 people lost their lives to accidents on Nigerian roads between January and August 2010. Previous years were worse. FRSC record shows that 4,120 persons lost their lives while 20,975 others were seriously injured in fatal accidents that involved 11,031 vehicles across the nation in 2009. In 2008, there were 11, 341 documented accidents with the total number of deaths put at 6,661 and 27,980 injured. The Corps Marshal of FRSC, Osita Chidoka was reported to have estimated that Nigeria currently loses three billion naira every year to road accidents.

Those are routine mishaps. How prepared are we for catastrophes like earthquake, tsunami, hurricane, mudslide, and wildfire? God forbid, we are wont to saying. But what if it happens? With the frequent change in climatic condition due to global warming occasioned by ozone layer depletion, is there any calamity we can put beyond Nigeria? Have we an evacuation plan in the event of any large-scale natural disaster? There are several agencies established to manage and control disasters in Nigeria.

The prominent ones among them include: National Emergency Management Agency established via Act 12 as amended by Act 50 of 1999; Federal Road Safety Commission established in 1988, as the lead agency in Nigeria on road safety administration and management. FRSC tasks include: Making the highways safe for motorists and other road users; recommending works and devices designed to eliminate or minimise accidents on the highways and advising the federal and state governments, including the Federal Capital Territory Administration and relevant governmental agencies, on the localities where such works and devices are required, and educating motorists and members of the public on the importance of discipline on the highways.

The Nigeria Fire Service is 110 years old, having commenced operations in 1906 under the Lagos Police Fire Department. Unfortunately, of all the disaster management agencies, it is the least equipped and staffed to play its vital role. According to the Controller General of the Federal Fire Service, Mr. Olusegun Okebiorun while speaking at a media forum in Abuja in 2010, out of the 5,000 fire service stations needed in the country to effectively fight fire outbreaks; Nigeria currently has 269 of such stations nationwide. He categorised fire stations into three: the metropolitan, the municipal, the market style or the fire post. He said, “If we are to have fire stations in this country, we should have nothing less than 5,000.

“The least capital city of any state requires no fewer than five fire stations, with some requiring 10 and others, 20; while Lagos needs up to 50. Kaduna, which has just a fire station, required at least 10.” The FSS boss said the cost of establishing a metropolitan fire service station ranged between N700m and N800m, while the municipal station, which is of a lower grade, could cost N500m. The fire post or the market fire station would cost about N200m because it required only a fire engine and a water tanker.

According to a news item in The Punch of Wednesday, June 8, 2011 titled “In Abuja, Fire Stations are junkyards” it was revealed that “The FFS has seven stations across the FCT, but none of them has more than one functional fire engine while the headquarters itself has just two fire trucks in service. The common feature of these stations is the dead fire engines littering their premises. The functional trucks dispense about 1,500 gallons of water, which does not last beyond five minutes. Equipment like air breathing apparatus; fire resistant garment; fire rate lock; fire blanket; telescopic fire warden sign; megaphones; first aid kit as well as modern fire trucks and helicopters were in short supply, if available at all. Compared to other fire stations across the world, the FFS is an infant at play. The New York Fire Department responds to more than 260,000 fire and non-fire related emergencies and more than one million emergencies each year including medical emergencies, disasters and terrorist acts. It maintains 250 fire houses and ambulance stations. This is not surprising as the department has a budget of $39.14bn just for its capital projects for 2010-2013. On the other hand, the FFS got N405m for its 2011 capital projects and N2.3bn as total allocation for the year.”

Other challenges faced by the Nigeria Fire Service stations both at the federal and state levels are absence of water hydrants at street corners; lack of fire lane reserved for fire appliances; most of the major high-rise structure do not have adequate fire escape; and, non-enforcement of fire prevention laws at filling stations. It was also revealed that the last time the FFS recruited was in 2001, ten years ago. There is also the issue of inadequate welfare and incentives for fire-fighters. It is gladdening that the Federal Fire Service has deemed it fit to launch a standard guideline to regulate the operations of stakeholders in the fire sub-sector.

All Nigeria’s disaster management agencies need to network and synergise for effective coordination of their activities. Adequate funding and planning is also non-negotiable for them if we want to halt the frequent losses currently being incurred perennially to disasters. Law enforcement is equally important. For instance, those contractors responsible for collapsed buildings need to be arrested and prosecuted, same for those building on waterways or those blocking drainages. Government has responsibility to prevent disaster by doing the needful on time. Why wait till a building collapse when such could have been pulled down once a structural defect is noticed? The populace on their part must be law abiding and should pay adequate attention to safety regulations. A stitch in time saves nine.