Govt should rethink response to disasters

Wednesday December 11 2019

Retrieved. Residents  lift one of the bodies

Retrieved. Residents lift one of the bodies recovered during a search for landslides victims at Namasa village, Bushika Sub- county in Bududa on Monday. PHOTO BY LEONARD MUKOOLI 

By Editor

Government should re-engineer its responses to disaster preparedness, and management. For the last 10 years, the country has responded in the same way to similar and recurrent disasters.
Surprisingly, our natural disasters, especially floods, landslides, and mud falls, are predictable. Similarly, the areas prone to these catastrophes are also known, especially the highland areas of Elgon, the Rwenzori, and Kigezi as well as the flood plains of Bukedi, especially Butaleja and Pallisa.

Nevertheless, every year, these disasters kill at least 100 people. Worse, these deaths due to the disasters, have prevailed for the last 10 years, now totaling 1,000 deaths. Sadly, we have not changed our approaches to mitigating these disasters.

However, this is not to say government has not acted. On the contrary, government has put in place the National Emergency Coordination and Operations Centre in Kampala. Government has also trained tens of district disaster management committees on emergency preparedness and responses.

Moreover, government has, in collaboration with development partners, established early warning systems in disaster-prone areas of Mount Elgon, the Rwenzori, and Karamoja. Even better, government, through the Department of Relief, Disaster Preparedness and Management, has carried out risk, hazard, vulnerability and disaster assessment and mapping in 52 high-risk districts.

So where are we getting it wrong despite all these preparedness and response to manage, contain, and minimise the disasters?

For an effective way forward, government, especially the Ministry of Finance, should act on the concerns raised by Disaster Preparedness and Management Commissioner Martin Owor. From Mr Owor’s worries, it is manifest that the multi-hazard risk and vulnerability mapping across the country has not, and will not pay off any time soon. Besides, government’s elaborate disaster action plans remain mere functional structures to foretell and react, and not stem disasters.

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To change this, the Ministry of Finance needs to appreciate the nature and magnitude of disaster financing. This requires that Finance releases money in advance to manage disasters predicted and not to manage after-effects of disasters. As Mr Owor laments, his department should not be reduced to buying, distributing, and following up food and non-food items for disaster victims, but stem the disasters.

Likewise, partner agencies and non-governmental actors, need advanced planning, and not the knee-jerk responses of shuttling tarpaulins, mosquito nets, blankets, jerricans, and basins to disaster victims.

As a solution, government should consider adopting disaster safety net, based on World Bank’s drought disaster risk financing for Karamoja. Through this, government would develop and test an elaborate multi-sector disaster rapid response and scale up all mitigating measures before the disasters strike.

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