Thursday September 14 2017

Government should up its game on disaster management

On August 28 and 29, disaster struck again. Landslides occurred in Bududa and Sironko districts claiming lives, destroying property and washing away gardens. Disasters such as those are not new. Geological studies published in the Elsevier Journal indicate that they have been a constant occurrence for more than 100 years.
By the time the latest ones occurred, more than 100 landslides had been recorded in Manjiya Sub-county alone. Were they expected to occur again? Yes. Was the government aware that they would recur? Certainly!

The government’s perpetual ill-preparedness to deal with disasters, be it a river bursting its banks such as happened with River Unyama in 2013 and on August 21 or landslides such as those that have been occurring in the Rwenzori and Elgon regions, is surprising in the face of such certainty.

The Office of the Prime Minister has a ministry for Disaster Preparedness, a National Emergency Coordination and Operations Centre headed by Brig Stephen Oluka, a Commissioner in charge of Disaster Management and a whole range of officials under it.
Between September 25 and September 26, 2014, some of these officials participated in a disaster simulation exercise coordinated by the World Food Programme and funded by the British government with a view of testing Uganda’s readiness to respond to crises and also to help the nation develop a national system for managing such crises right from preparedness, through response to recovery. This was meant to be achieved through effective coordination.

However, it would appear that the training was in vain. Problems such as failure to deliver earth moving equipment, which hampered rescue operations when landslides occurred in Bududa District in 2010, have recurred. Rescue efforts were left in the hands of a few civilians equipped with hand hoes. Failed delivery of relief items on account of a poor road network, which we experienced seven years ago, has been recurring.
That portrays us as a country that learns nothing, not even from our tragic history! Other countries do enlist the services of the armed forces and its machinery like choppers in rescue operations and delivery of relief items. In our case available choppers seem to be only available to fly government officials around the country.
The scenario points to a glaring failure on the part of government to plan for such eventualities and to make available adequate resources to facilitate meaningful interventions. Government needs to up its game here. We need to constitute a serious crisis management team and facilitate it to prepare for disasters.