The rains are here and even the blind can see that they are falling in torrents.
Mustapha Habib, The Director General of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) acknowledged as much in his weekly run down on social media on September 17, 2023 where he noted that “the rains are falling in torrents and testing the resilience of our efforts over the past few months in downscaling early warning signals and disaster preparedness to the grassroots.”
For any one following the news, NEMA has been spreading the message of preparedness and proactivity with regard to the flooding that usually accompanies the heavy rains. The messaging is anchored on four pillars – Preparedness, Mitigation, Response and Recovery.
The agency’s proactive stance while strategic and in line with disaster and emergency management best practice is also firmly rooted in recent history, a clear example of learning from history in order not to repeat it.
Nigeria experienced its worst flooding in 2022 when torrential rains heightened by the effects of climate change led to flooding between July and September 2022. Things got worse when the Lagdo Dam was opened on September 13, 2022 and exacerbated an already bad situation.
By the time the damage was assessed, over 4 million Nigerians had been affected with 665 dead, over 2 million persons displaced, 355,986 houses damaged and 944,989 hectares of farmlands destroyed. It was devastating.
The government noted that the “there was enough warning and information about the 2022 flood” but blamed local governments, states, and communities for not acting promptly despite the warnings.
Mustapha Habib Ahmed as the chief executive of Nigeria’s apex disaster management agency has vowed that Nigeria and Nigerians would not experience that level of devastation again.
But in making that vow, Ahmed was clearly cognizant of the fact that vagaries of nature especially with the effects of climate change have left us living in a world of increasing global complexity beset by natural and man-made disasters.
The global complexities and vagaries of nature mean that man will always be at the mercy of the elements but knowledge and insight gained from application of technology means that we can better prepare for those when they occur.
Mustapha Ahmed remains convinced that by exploring innovative technologies, data-driven approaches, and cutting-edge solutions, disaster management agencies like NEMA will be able to enhance the efficiency, accuracy, and timeliness of disaster management activities.
This is being achieved by fostering a synergistic relation with the Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NiMET) and the Nigerian Hydrological Services Agency (NIHSA) whose technologically aided Seasonal Climate Prediction (SCP) and Annual Flood Outlook (AFO) have become veritable barometers for gauging the impact of rain on the country.
This year, NIHSA in its 2023 Annual Flood Outlook (AFO), with the theme “Flood Prediction and its Impact on Socio-Economic Livelihood of Nigerians” warned that 178 Local Government Areas (LGA’s) in 32 States of the federation and the FCT fall within the Highly Probable Flood Risks Areas.”
With knowledge comes power and NEMA has used that knowledge to its advantage with the prosecution of a well-designed awareness campaign focused on continued activities targeted at downscaling disaster early warning measures to the grassroots in order to build proactive capacity and resilience for disaster management, especially with regard to the flooding season. These have taken the form of sensitization via television and radio jingles and programmes, clearing of drainages as well as readiness to embark on search and rescue missions.
The agency has also focused on capacity building initiatives targeted at up-skilling State and other sub-national level actors in emergency and disaster management preparedness and mitigation.
On September 15, 2023 two cohorts made up of mid-level officers from State Emergency Management Agencies (SEMA) collaborated with officials of NEMA in a training workshop which proceeded under the theme “Disaster Management and Preparedness Institutional Capacity Strengthening.”
The training programme, the third this year, was delivered in collaboration with United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) Nigeria with support from UNICEF Nigeria, the International Red Cross & Red Crescent as well as the International office on Migration (IOM) Nigeria. Expected outcomes include “fostering cooperation, collaboration, and experience sharing while enhancing the synergy between the Agencies in the delivery of their mandates.”
The key focus of the workshop was on strengthening the capacity of the participants in the areas of Humanitarian Coordination Mechanism; Disaster Management Cycle and Institutional Capacity as well as Resource Mobilization. Other focus areas included Information Management; Community Based Disaster Management; Search and Rescue; Incident Command System; Disaster Preparedness; Risk Management; and Early Warning System among others
Aside from proactivity, NEMA has also been focusing on collaborations which is key to building a robust disaster management system that cascades impact from top to bottom.
While NEMA has prioritised inter-agency as well as national and sub-national collaborations which it believes are critical to disaster management coordination and resilience building, it has also actively sought collaborations with multilateral agencies, especially the UN system in Nigeria as a means of ensuring that its efforts and activities are benchmarked against global standards.
Speaking at the NEMA/SEMA training in Abuja, Esty Sukoyo, Deputy Head UN-OCHA Nigeria, delivered an impactful opening speech highlighting the importance of effective collaboration among national and international agencies to enhance disaster preparedness and response even as she underscored the crucial role of UN-OCHA in global humanitarian efforts and disaster response coordination.
NEMA has also been building, through its regional offices, a pipeline of emergency workers through collaborations with bodies like the Red Cross and even medical faculties of universities in training community members and students as first responders and emergency workers. They include Students of the Post Basic Accident and Emergency Studies of the Ezeala College of Nursing Science in Imo State, 400 level students of the Jos University teaching Hospital, Plateau state, Junior Course 96 students of the Command and Staff College, Jaji and select members of Kosofe Local Government Area in Lagos who took part in basic disaster management & equipment demonstrations.
These efforts appear to be bearing positive dividends. The Lagdo Dam was opened this year and thanks to monitoring and prevention, no damage was reported and while the rains have intensified with flooding leading to damage and displacement of communities, proactive engagement embarked upon by NEMA has ensured that the death toll has been minimal and nowhere near the triple digits from last year.
As the rains intensify, the hope is that Nigerians will be spared the scale of devastation witnessed in 2022.