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Disaster mismanagement in our region is part of bigger problem

25th September 2011
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The year 2011 is entering its twilight stage for, come October, all of us will be anxiously looking forward for the arrival of a new year. Reviewers of what transpired in 2011 will be declared incompetent in case they fail to highlight the fact that it was characterized by tragedies which sent shock waves across this part of our beloved continent.

The calamities referred to are many, if fatal road accidents which took place and their consequences are well documented. But stories about MV Spice Islander I in Zanzibar, the Sinai slum fuel pipeline leakage in Kenya, and the Mount Elgon landslide episode in Uganda, are likely to get more attention. Hundreds of East Africans perished in all the three incidents where a good number of the “lucky” survivals are destined to be permanently incapacitated.

As far as I am concerned, the cloud of these stunning events is not without its silver lining, much as such making such a statement could one look ridiculous.

The fact, however, is that these latest tragic incidents have jolted the minds of many East Africans to the extent that they no longer take such happenings for granted but are subjecting them to microscopic scrutiny - a good mentally, this one.

Yes, of late media outlets in the region have been awash with stories about these tragic happenings, in form of investigative pieces, special column commentaries, editorials as well as readers’ views. One may as well conclude that the current debate in the air is on how countries in the region, acting singly or as a bloc are performing insofar as disaster management is concerned.

Cartoonist Godfrey Mwampembwa of the GADO fame has opted to use a satirical approach through a cartoon in the EastAfrican regional weekly suggesting that a book written on “East Africa Disaster Preparedness and Management “ ought to have six important chapters. What are these chapters?

Well, Mwampembwa suggests that Chapter one can be on the President and the Prime Minister visiting the scene of the disaster and declaring several days of mourning.

Chapter two may be on organizing to provide token support for survivors and families of the disaster victims. Other proposed chapters are on forming the commission of enquiry, engagement in the blame game, and seeking foreign support. The cartoonist’s final chapter is on the “business as usual scenario” while waiting for another disaster.

There is no doubt that the humourist graphically summarizes in one cartoon drawing what the rest of the commentators say in thousands of words as they reflect on the state of preparedness by East African countries to manage both man-made and natural disasters.

Most observers agree that there are no coherent policies or strong institutions to prevent disasters and manage them when they occur, as some are natural and cannot be avoided.

Noted also is the fact that no adequate funds are allocated to put in place disaster management infrastructure and trained personnel to handle disaster-related operations.

You note, for example, that an island country or a country with extensive coastline and a number of lakes has no competent professional divers and banks on South Africa’s help when marine disasters occur.

Is training professional divers and equipping them a big deal? Some critics note that the corruption factor is also a hitch as resources that ought to go into disaster management projects are squandered through this malpractice.

There are many cases where victims of even man-triggered disasters are not compensated due to lack of appropriate insurance schemes and insensitivity of the powers of the day to the basic rights of the citizens. These issues should be addressed.

We tend to concur with those who argue that poor disaster management is part of the overall bad governance.

Henry Muhanika is a Media Consultant hmuhanika@yahoo.com

SOURCE: GUARDIAN ON SUNDAY
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