By Abel Daniel
As the rainy season picks up, the North Central Zonal Office of the National Emergency Agency (NEMA) has embarked on a disaster risk management campaign in order to mitigate the effect of the flood predicted by the Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NIMET) this year. In this interview, the NEMA Coordinator in the zone, Mr. Mohammed Abdulsalam, speaks on the preparedness of the agency in the zone to avoid a repeat of the 2012 flood disaster.
How was NEMA able to handle the victims of the last year flood in the North Central Zone?
Well, despite the early warning exercise we carried out to sensitize the people to prepare against the predicted rainfall by NIMET, people did not take our advice seriously. So when the rain started heavily in July and August and they could cope with the deluge, we had to come to their rescue with other stakeholders. We were able to save a lot of people and their properties.
Can you sum up the number of persons displaced by the flood in the zone?
About one million people were displaced with more than half of that number from Benue State.
What were your major challenges in the handling of the flood victims in the zone so far?
The major challenge we faced was the non-challant attitude of the people to the advice and direct instruction from government agencies to protect themselves, not only against flooding but also on any other disaster that may likely occur in their surroundings.
We did not rest on our oars but continued to sensitize the people by organizing workshops and training programs to sensitize them and create more awareness. Among those who are enlightened, we ask them to preach the gospel of disaster reduction particularly to people at the grassroots. We created what we call Disaster Rescue Group among students and trained them on how to handle fire disasters and other disasters in their schools and immediate environment.
We also trained corps members to train others across the country starting from their places of primary assignment during their service year. We set a target of at least 20 people in the rural areas where they are serving, because we observed that people in the rural areas respect them a lot, and they could be agents of transformation. We call them Rural Emergency Vanguard.
Corps members have been very useful to us in the area of public awareness campaign. Where they have any project like construction of public toilet or cleaning of blocked drainages, they call for assistance financially or technically from us. We help them to carry out such activities.
Going by the NIMET prediction, what measures have you put in place to minimize the effects of climate change in the zone?
You will recall that the prediction was made by NIMET on 15 February. Shortly after, our headquarters office convened a meeting with stakeholders in Abuja, vis, the federal ministries of environment, water resources, Nigerian Red Cross, Federal Fire Service, among others. After appraising our exercise of last year, we looked at what needed to be improved upon. Then we drafted letters to respective state governors and state emergency managements on the prediction and what we intend doing to be able to pass the message across. It is about 11 weeks now since we received the prediction from NIMET.
Since that time till now we have organized not less than 11 different workshops and consultative meetings with states emergency managers across the country with our DG starting from Lafia. After assessing their level of preparedness, and where they needed our assistance, the DG promised assistance where necessary. States that needed a little push, the DG promised to pay advocacy visits to the states to encourage the governors to release funds to empower the agency to put them in a higher level of preparedness against possible flooding.
What is your advice to people living and farming in flood prone areas?
What we observed is that majority of the victims of the last flooding are mainly residents of rural areas. Most of them are peasant farmers or fishermen and they cannot be evacuated entirely from their means of livelihood. Most times, the challenge we face with some of them is that they cling fast to their traditional belief saying their great grand fathers do not want them leave their communities.
We had to ask them to choose areas they feel will be good for them pending when the flooding will be over. It is our duty as government to protect them, and that is what we are doing. We had special meetings with some of the communities in Nasarawa and Benue States, and the respective governments took note and are planning to build safe havens for them, especially those living along river banks who are basically fishermen and rice farmers.
What would you tell Nigerians as their obligations as we approach the peak of the rainy season
First and foremost we are appealing to the media to play their role as major stakeholders in disaster management by informing Nigerians on behalf of NEMA. Secondly, people should stop dumping refuse in drainages because it can stop water from flowing appropriately. Thirdly, we should stop building on waterways or flood prone areas because, during flood such people will not be able to hold the force of water.
These are the major challenges we are facing. People just dump refuse anywhere. Where people keep their refuse waiting for rain to start and then they just dump them for the rain to help them dispose and not knowing that the refuse could block water passage when stuck. The general saying that water must find its way will then happen as the water uses every possible way to flow when the normal passage is blocked thereby resulting into flood because people may not be able to cope with the water capacity. So people should keep to this simple rule and it will go a long way to reduce flooding in our communities. This is how we can protect our lives and the environment.
The campaign has been on in collaboration with our major stakeholders which include the ministries of environment, water resources and youth leaders, faith based organization who carry the message to the people at the grassroots. In each of the 74 local governments across the country, we are working towards training at least 200 able bodied youths to serve as first respondents in their communities in cases of disaster before the arrival of major stake holders.