Tanzania has been faced with a number of disasters both natural and man made. For the last decade there has been a series of disasters which have claimed lives of innocent people, their properties, as well as their peace of mind. Disasters such as floods, fire, accidents both on road and marine, have left our hearts with great sorrows…
To mention just a few, On May 21, 1996 the MV Bukoba marine disaster caused a loss of properties worth million of shillings and killing nearly 1000 people.
The boat transported passengers and cargo between Bukoba and Mwanza ports. The steamer's capacity was 430, but around 800 people drowned as the boat sank to the bottom of Lake Victoria. The manifest showed 443 passengers in the first and second class cabins, but the cheaper third class compartment had no passenger manifesto.
Last year, our nation was struck by a wave of grief following a marine disaster when the ship Spice Islanders which was heading to Pemba, drowned and caused loss of property, lives and psychological stress among relatives and citizens in general.
There are several such disasters in marine transport in the country which have caused loss of lives and property due to negligence.
Other disasters include the fire inferno at Shauritanga Secondary School which occurred more than once, and caused loss of lives of students and property. In 1994, a total of 43 students lost their lives. However, it seems no effective measures were taken as the inferno occurred again few years after the first event.
Last year we witnessed bombs exploding from the Mbagala and Gongo la mboto military camps, and caused loss of property, lives and psychological stress among Dar es Salaam city dwellers.
At the very end of 2010, we have witnessed heavy floods across the country, whereby Dare s Salaam was mostly hit and 40 lives were lost. The list of deaths could be more, and the destruction of property was immense. The victims are yet to be provided with reliable future settlements.
The list of such disasters in Tanzania is endless and there are new events happening everyday which could have been prevented.
The prolonged occurrence of such disasters raise so many questions, including whether our disaster management system is really effective or there is negligence in ensuring that early warning systems are effective to prevent occurrence of disasters or minimise the effects.
Tanzania has a Disaster Management Unit (DMU) at the Vice President’s office. However, my argument for strengthening disaster management system is based on how responses towards disasters have been in Tanzania. Mostly we have rushed and utilized a lot of resources and efforts to rescue victims of disasters after its occurrence.
We have not established systems which will help in prevention or reducing the effects of disasters. In addition, the current floods have revealed how vulnerable we are in terms of poor disaster management skills among citizens as well as lack of adequate and reliable equipment for disaster rescue.
According to information in the UNEP website, traditionally local communities in Tanzania use “reactive or crisis management approach” to react to natural disasters.
Under this approach, the communities wait until an event occurs and then try to mitigate the consequences by whatever means available as quickly as possible. One of the reasons for adopting this approach is due to the uncertainty of the occurrence of a natural disaster, so rather than incurring costs in preventive measures, the villagers adopt a ‘wait-and-see’ approach.
The reactions by various government authorities which are responsible for disaster management on various disasters which have occurred, concurs with UNEP observation. We are yet to establish a disaster management system which aims at offsetting or minimizing risks so that disasters do not occur completely or when they strike, they do not bring high effect to the wide population.
Generally, the fire disaster department is ill equipped, that’s why we have observed that when fire engines are called to the event either they come late, without water or with leaking pipes.
On the other hand, our Early Warning Systems are poor including the meteorological unit. On 28th December, 2011 most of the newspapers quoted the Director of Tanzania Meteorological Authority (TMA), Dr. Agnes Kijazi, warning dwellers in flood valleys that rainfalls which started from 27th December to the end of December would have caused immense floods. Contrary, since 27th December to date there has been intense sunshine lead in ignorance of such warnings in future.
The urban planning system which could have supported in effective disaster management is also very poor. In most of the places the houses are too congested such that during emergencies the rescue operations become very difficult. Disasters such as fire, flood, or diseases out break can be intensified in such areas.
We have observed mushrooming of construction in flood valleys such as Msimbazi Valley. Effective urban planning do not allow people to dwell in areas prone to floods. However, there has not been in place effective measures to ensure that people do not construct in valleys.
Every year during heavy rains, there has been many cases of loss of property, lives and outbreak of communicable diseases.
Recently, I was doing shopping at Congo Street in Kariakoo, and observed that there are underground shops. However, none of them have fire extinguisher systems and fire or flood escape systems. In this case, when fire, earthquake or flood disaster happens it is likely there will be massive loss of lives and property. I was wondering whether the government department which inspects building provided permits without ensuring such systems are in place.
We need to consider that disaster management does not end with natural events. However, disasters caused due to socio-economic and political unrest and crises should also be considered when designing disaster management systems.
Early last year, we witnessed an increasing number of people going to Loliondo for treatment such that the overcrowding of population at Samunge village threatened environment destruction, outbreak of communicable diseases and lack of security.
However, the reaction from the responsible government agencies has been very slow, such as ensuring that preventive measures are put in place. It was until some problems happened when some support were extended.
Our Disaster Management System lack post-disaster trauma psycho-social counseling services, which is an important component to help disaster victims to start up their lives. Even in the recent flood disaster in Dar es Salaam I have not heard any call for volunteer counselors to provide counseling services provided to victims.
In order to ensure that there is an effective disaster or emergence management system we need to have proper plans. Various literatures I have visited have mentioned that there are four phases in disaster or emergence management, which include mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery.
(a) Mitigation phase: mitigation efforts attempt to prevent hazards from developing into disasters altogether, or to reduce the effects of disasters when they occur. The mitigation phase differs from the other phases because it focuses on long-term measures for reducing or eliminating risk. The implementation of mitigation strategies can be considered a part of the recovery process if applied after a disaster occurs.
Mitigation measures can be structural or non-structural. Structural measures use technological solutions, like flood levees.
Non-structural measures include legislation, land-use planning (such as the designation of nonessential land like parks to be used as flood zones), and insurance. Mitigation is the most cost-efficient method for reducing the impact of hazards. However it is not always suitable.
Mitigation does include providing regulations regarding evacuation, sanctions against those who refuse to obey the regulations (such as mandatory evacuations), and communication of potential risks to the public.
(b) Preparedness phase: is a continuous cycle of planning, organizing, training, equipping, exercising, evaluation and improvement activities to ensure effective coordination and the enhancement of capabilities to prevent, protect against, respond to, recover from, and mitigate the effects of natural disasters, acts of terrorism, and other man-made disasters.
In the preparedness phase, emergency managers develop plans of action to manage and counter their risks and take action to build the necessary capabilities needed to implement such plans.
Common preparedness measures include: communication plans with easily understandable terminology and methods; proper maintenance and training of emergency services, including mass human resources such as community emergency response teams, development and exercise of emergency population warning methods combined with emergency shelters and evacuation plans; stockpiling, inventory, and maintain disaster supplies and equipment; and develop organizations of trained volunteers among civilian populations.
Professional emergency workers are rapidly overwhelmed in mass emergencies. Under the circumstances, trained, organized and responsible volunteers are extremely valuable.
(c) Response Phase: this phase includes the mobilization of the necessary emergency services and first responders in the disaster area.
This is likely to include a first wave of core emergency services, such as firefighters, police and ambulance crews. They may be supported by a number of secondary emergency services, such as specialist rescue teams which include psycho social counselors.
A well rehearsed emergency plan developed as part of the preparedness phase enables efficient coordination of rescue. Where required, search and rescue efforts commence at an early stage. There is a need for both discipline (structure, doctrine, process) and agility (creativity, improvisation, adaptability) in responding to a disaster.
Effective leadership allows the team to move forward with coordinated, disciplined responses that are vaguely right and adapt to new information and changing circumstances along the way.
(d) Recovery phase: The aim of the recovery phase is to restore the affected area to its previous state. It differs from the response phase in its focus; recovery efforts are concerned with issues and decisions that must be made after immediate needs are addressed.
Recovery efforts are primarily concerned with actions that involve rebuilding destroyed property, re-employment, and the repair of other essential infrastructure. Efforts should be made to "build back better", aiming to reduce the pre-disaster risks inherent in the community and infrastructure.
An important aspect of effective recovery efforts is taking advantage of a ‘window of opportunity’ for the implementation of mitigation measures that might otherwise be unpopular. Citizens of the affected area are more likely to accept more mitigation changes when a recent disaster is in fresh memory.
Among all efforts in disaster or emergence management, provision of training and skills to various groups such as workers, students, and other community members will help in minimising the level of casualty when disaster occurs.
The writer is a Specialist in Education Management, Economics of Education and Policy Studies. He is reached through 0754304181 or firstname.lastname@example.org