Friday May 9 2014

Disaster risk preparedness key

Some government departments are sleeping on their jobs. And scores of bridges countrywide have been washed away, exactly a year after 35 Ugandans perished in landslides in Kasese. Leave alone 350 deaths in the Bududa landslides on Mt Elgon in 2012.

Sadly, every year, the bureaucrats whip out of office cabinets those expert predictions. So Ugandans hear ‘most parts of Uganda will receive more rain than usual between end of March and end of May’. And the forecast are often up to 70 per cent accurate.

It would be beneficial if disaster preparedness officials stopped this singsong. Ugandans must refuse to sing along to their press statements. The officials should not make disaster advisory to Ugandans a pleasurable annual media ritual and watch as deluges kill Ugandans for sport.

The Department of Relief, Disaster Preparedness and Management is aware the torrents wreak flash floods, landslides and waterborne epidemics. The cases of cholera in West Nile were not unexpected.
It is great Uganda has in place the National Emergency Coordination and Operations Centre in Kampala. But knee-jerk reactions and shuttling tarpaulins, mosquito nets, blankets, jerricans, basins and hand hoes to victims, are helpful, but they fall well short of what truly needs to be done for the help to be substantive and meaningful.

Commendably, government has trained tens of District Disaster Management Committees on emergency preparedness. But these remain mere functional structures and only assess and report on and not prepare for disasters. At the local levels, awareness remains scant and capacity to respond to disasters almost non-existent as this is left to the ministry. The multi-hazard risk and vulnerability mapping of the Rwenzori, completed in 2012/13, has not paid off.

Government should ensure risk reduction policies are adjusted to local context, needs and priorities. Lesson is government must support risk reduction policies at the local level. For instance, DENIVA, an NGO, runs a pilot community level risk reduction project, Views from the Frontline, in Pader, Katakwi Bududa, Kabale, Bundibugyo, and Kampala. Here, local leaders should educate residents on reducing risks of floods, landslides, and epidemics.
Districts should set aside contingency funds and step up disaster surveillance. Ugandans demand disaster risk preparedness and enduring results.