As we approach the peak of rainy season, the North Central zonal office of the National Emergency Agency (NEMA) has embarked on disaster risk management campaign in order to mitigate the negative effect of the impending flood predicted by the Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NIMET) in 2013.
In this interview, the Zonal Co-ordinator of the agency Mr. Mohammed Abdulsalam, speaks with our correspondent ABEL DANIEL in Lafia on the level of preparedness of NEMA in the zone to prevent a re-occurence of damage incurred in 2012 as a result of flood.
How was NEMA able to handle the numerous victims of the last year’s flood in the North Central?
Well, despite the early warning 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 not cope with the disaster , we had to come quickly to their rescue with the aid of our relevant stakeholders. We were able to save a lot of people that were affected.
How many persons were displaced by the flood in the zone?
We recorded about one million displaced persons with more than half of that number from Benue state.
What were the major challenges in the handling the flood victims in the zone?
It was the non-challant attitude of the our people in disregarding advice and direct instruction from government agencies to protect themselves, not only against flooding but also against 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 other training programs to create more awareness. We asked those who are enlightened to preach everywhere, gospel of disaster-reduction, particularly to people at the grass roots. So, we have been training people at various levels.
We created what we call Disaster Rescue Group among students and trained them on how to handle fire disaster and some other disaster-related incidents in their schools and immediate environments.
We also trained youth corps members to help train others across the country, starting from their places of primary assignments during their service year. We set a target of at least 20 people in the rural areas where they are serving, because we observe that people at the rural areas respect them a lot, and they could be agents of transformation. We call them Rural Emergency Vanguard.
Youth corps members have been very useful to us in areas of public awareness campaign. We monitor their activities and performance regularly. Where they have any project to initiate like construction of public toilets or cleaning of blocked drainages, they invite or call for our assistance financially or technically. We do respond by encouraging and supporting them to carry out such activities.
Going by NIMET predictions, what proactive measures have you put in place to be able to minimize effects of flood in the zone?
You will recall that the prediction was made by NIMET on the 15th of February this year. Shortly after that, our headquarter convened a meeting with relevant stakeholders in Abuja from the federal ministries of Environment, Water Resources, Nigerian Red cross, Federal Fire Service and others. After appraising our exercise of last year, we looked at ways and what needed to be improved upon.
After that, we drafted letters to respective state governors and state emergency managements on NIMET predictions and what we intend doing to be able pass the message across. It is about 11 weeks now since we received the predictions from NIMET and since that time till now, we have organized not less than 11 different workshops and consultative meetings with states emergency managements across the country with our DG starting from Lafia, Nasarawa state.
At that meeting, we enquired what the state have put in place to avoid the re-occurrence of disaster. After assessing the level of preparedness and where they needed our assistance, the DG promised assistance where necessary. In the states that needed a little push, the DG promised to pay courtesy visits to such states so as to encourage the state governors to release funds to empower the agency and put them in a higher level of preparedness against possible flooding in the area.
Furthermore, we have embarked on comprehensive sensitization workshops being held at various places within the region to enhance and create more awareness at the grass roots on the role of the public in disaster management.
Just last week, we embarked on training of volunteer youth corps members on mass casualty handlings. During the training, the volunteer corps members were drilled for about two weeks. We are planning a similar training program called ‘evacuation drills’ for other stakeholders.
Next week, we are having another sensitization workshop in Gboko, in collaboration with Benue state emergency management. All these are parts of readiness and preparations against flooding in the zone and it is a continuous exercise.
What is your advice to people living and farming in flood prone areas?
What we observed like you rightly mentioned is that majority of the victims of the last flooding were living in the communities and rural areas. Most of them are peasant farmers or fishermen and they cannot be evacuated entirely from their means of livelihood. Most times, the challenges we face with some of them is that they cling fast to their traditional beliefs, saying their great grand fathers do not want them to leave their abode.
We had to ask them to choose places or areas they feel will be good for them pending when the flooding will be over. It is our duty as government to provide and protect them, and that is what we are doing.
We had special meetings with some of those communities in places like Nasarawa and Benue, 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 who use those mushy areas for farming rice for a living.
The state governments of those places are preparing a safe haven for them because their areas are prone to flooding every year, so that during the peak of rainy season, they could have where to run for safety pending when the flood is over.
What would you tell Nigerians as we approach the peak of rainy season?
First and foremost, we are appealing to the media to play their role as major stakeholders in disaster management by sensitizing Nigerians on behalf of NEMA. Secondly, people should stop dumping refuge on drainages because it can block the passage of water from flowing appropriately. Thirdly, we should stop building on water ways 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 refuge anywhere. Where people keep their refuge waiting for rain to start and then they just dump them for the rain to help them dispose them and not knowing that those dumps could block water passages when stocked.
The general saying that water must find its way will then happen as the water use 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 rules and it will go a long way to reduce flooding in our communities. This is how we can protect our lives and environments.
The campaign has been on in collaboration with our major stake holders which include the ministries of environment, water resources and youth leaders, faith base organization who carry the message to people at the grass root. In each of the 74 local governments across the country we are working towards training at least 200 able body youths to serve as first respondents in their communities in cases of disaster before the arrival of major stake holders.
Can we say that NEMA is prepared adequately to handle flood disaster in Nigeria in 2013?
Yes, NEMA is set to mitigate the effect if it occurs. Our training since the beginning of the year both locally and internationally was not limited to NEMA alone. We carry along our stake holders like the Road Safety Corps, the Civil Defense Corps, fire service, and other relevant stake holders. In addition to that all our ware houses across the country are stocked with relief materials. That is not to say we are praying for the occurrence but we must be prepared to mitigate where it happens because we can’t completely avoid it. It is accepted globally that disaster occurs in any developing society. So it is the level of preparedness to handle the disaster that we should be seeing. Our aim is to build the coping capacity of the prone communities to enable them mitigate the disaster when it occur. We can’t prevent but we can mitigate. So in a nutshell I want to tell you that NEMA is fully prepare to handle any disaster in Nigeria.