Beyond the disasters, what positive lessons can we learn?

Thursday December 6 2018

David R. Walugembe

David R. Walugembe  

By David R. Walugembe

Over the past few weeks, several Ugandan media outlets have been dominated by news about varying disasters. Prior to the November 24 Lake Victoria boat tragedy, there was a fire outbreak at St Bernard’s School Mannya in Rakai District, the ongoing Parliament probe into the closure of seven banks by the Bank of Uganda, the Kasese and Busiika accidents, among others.
Each of these disasters has gripped the nation in fear and caused us to reflect on several pertinent questions.
Some of the prominent questions usually asked revolve around the policies in place to avert such tragedies, whose responsibility, whether it is government or the victims.
But some people have also asked what lessons we can learn from each of these tragedies and what can be done differently to avert their recurrence in the future.

Against this background, one can argue that despite the misery and pain caused, there is a positive side to each of the disasters that befall us as a society.
Depending on the nature of the tragedy, each of them gets the country to reflect upon the key questions that could potentially influence the generation of, or sharing of evidence about existing policies, strategies, programmes and measures to avert such tragedies.

Additionally, tragedies help create awareness about the responsibility centres, as well as the obligations of the public in averting re-occurrence of the same. However, we still lack the mechanism to effectively profit from disasters.
Whereas policies, strategies and programmes relating to these disasters are identified or enacted, and awareness about responsibility centres is created, the extent to which the country enforces and, or utilizes the lessons from each of the many disasters is unknown.

The media does a great job of documenting and broadcasting these events, as well as providing contextual background about their past occurrence. Experts in the academia and other fields usually provide additional input in terms of what research has been done to avert such tragedies. In some cases, the programme implementers also rise to the occasion to explain the efforts, dynamics and challenges they encounter in doing their part.
The public, on the other hand, continues to either look on unbothered, especially if none of their loved ones is affected, or complain and curse those who they think should have averted the calamity from happening.
A systematic approach to capturing and utilising the evidence generated from each of the tragedies that befall us as a nation is urgently required.

It will require all stakeholders involved to work as team. The media, which breaks the news and documents these catastrophes should go beyond the noble documentation and dissemination work.
They should monitor, evaluate and provide updates on the promises and commitments that the various stakeholders, including government, make every time tragedy strikes. The public should become more vigilant and relentlessly demand these progress updates on strategies to avert future tragedies.

Adequate media coverage and support should be provided for quarterly, bi-annual or annual stakeholder dialogues or other citizen engagement forums where lessons, progress updates from policy makers, researchers and programme implementers are shared.
Supporting such initiatives will encourage accountability from those stakeholders who usually inform the public about the existence or lack of policies and strategies to avert these disasters.

It will also promote sharing of updates regarding ongoing research initiatives, as well as programme interventions being implemented.
Such engagements may probably help to create more citizen awareness, nurture their interest in being part of the solution, as well as utilise the lessons and available evidence to avert future disasters in their communities and in the country as a whole.

Mr Walugembe is a health information scientist,