Improve accountability in disaster response

Thursday November 8 2018

Andrew Mafundo

Andrew Mafundo  

By Andrew Mafundo

The incidence of natural and environment-related disasters has increased and when they strike, the poor and socially disadvantaged suffer the most, and are least equipped to cope with the impact.
With the ongoing heavy rains, there is a possibility of more land and mudslides and other associated disasters in several parts of the country. However, disaster relief and recovery remains one of the most complex governance issues in Uganda.

Accountability is an integral aspect of good governance and goes beyond financial aspect, by taking into account other facets like accountability for decisions to enable scrutiny and understanding of actions taken at different levels and those responsible for such actions.

Government departments that are mandated to manage disasters and relief are by and large unprepared for the sheer urgency of disaster response. The complexity and dynamics of a crisis leaves normal procedures of planning, implementation, and oversight inappropriate yet the imperative of sustaining public trust demands strong accountability mechanisms for better planning, budgeting and coordination.

The current standoff between Bududa District leadership and the government over relocation and resettlement of communities living on the slopes of Mt Egon is a result of disagreement about the efficacy of previous and various relief actions. The process of resettling communities was far more slowly and less convincingly done and lost public accountability to the affected communities and their leaders.

Additionally, there was a failed management of tensions, a feeling of increased risk of mismanagement and misappropriation of available funds and resources and lack of popular participation to achieve broader consensus.
Issues of accountability, funding and responsibility of operations of natural disasters have become increasingly salient, and will continue to have broad political, economic, and environmental implications on the near future.

We, therefore, need clear principles set out beforehand to enable alignment with evolving conditions and agreement on responsibilities.
Accountability and transparency in disasters and relief is more of a process of communication between government representatives and stakeholders, in this case, the affected communities and it necessitates constant dialogue between both parties to achieve mutual understanding.

Whereas it is true that there is no cure - all solution to mismanagement issues that arise when handling disasters and relief, accountability provides conduits for government agents and other stakeholders to inform the public of their intentions and reasons without the need to issue press briefings, unconvincing apologies and resignation threats like the one of Hillar Onek, the Minister for Relief, Disaster Preparedness and Refugees. The minister, out of frustrations, threatened to resign in protest of government’s failure to release funds for the relocation and resettlement of people living in mudslide-prone Mt Elgon Sub-region.

Response and humanitarian assistance to recurrent or big-scale disasters absorb significant amounts of resources causing enormous loss at all levels.
According to the 2015 Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction (GAR15), economic losses from disasters had reached an average of $250 billion to $300 billion. If this trend were to persist, coping capacities of societies in both the developed and developing countries are likely to be overwhelmed.

The commissioner for refugees and disaster preparedness in the Office of the Prime Minister, Martin Owor, was recently quoted in the media as saying Uganda is using the old approach of 1960s and 1970s in disaster financing and management where money is released to help victims instead of availing money to mitigate disasters.

To reduce people’s vulnerability to disasters, the population needs awareness creation and capacity building in environmental management, disaster planning and mitigation, ecosystem restoration and presence of relevant contingency plans.

It is, therefore, wise to have a fresh and holistic approach that is gender-sensitive and can prioritise reduction of disaster risk, backlash and associated vulnerabilities and encourage a sustained change in disaster-prone areas.
We need new disaster and relief policies and legislation and reorganisation of disaster management institutions to match and fit into modern-day disaster financing and management.

Mr Mafundo is the executive director,
Citizens Concern Africa-CICOA
[email protected]