The Disaster Risk Reduction and Disaster Management Bill 2013, originally moved by Patricia Hajabakiga, will now pave way for the region to take a more co-ordinated approach in its disaster preparedness, management, protection and mitigation measures, including the handling of actual disasters.
The EAC region has in the recent past experienced some of the worst climatic disasters ever: This has ranged from torrential floods that sweep whole villages away and displace thousands of people to prolonged droughts that lead to the death of both people and livestock.
It is unfortunate that the devastating effects of climate change are most severely felt by the most vulnerable groups in society - including women, rural people and slum dwellers.
A majority of women, especially in rural areas, are predominantly peasant farmer. In light of increasingly erratic climatic changes, women and their families endure huge losses caused by the hazardous effects of unpredictable climate change. These include crop failure and death of livestock.
Recently, the fury of Mother Nature was experienced in Tanzania, where hailstorms in Kahama and floods in Dar es Salaam wreaked havoc, leaving in their wake death and destruction as well as displacement.
From late last year, Kenya experienced torrential rains that saw the government spend Ksh15 billion ($150 million) in mitigation, with hundreds of families displaced, lives lost and property worth millions destroyed.
It is a well-known fact that the effects of climate change – particularly climatic disasters of floods and droughts – have a serious and significant impact on communities, ecosystems and economies.
This has a negative impact on sustainable development in developing countries. The Least Developed Countries (LDCs), a category to which four of the five EAC Partner states belong, are most vulnerable to climate change.
In the past, the intervention of the state in disaster management has been on charitable engagement. The Bill will now provide a legal framework for intervention and assistance of persons affected by climate change and natural hazards-related disasters.
It will also protect the natural environment through comprehensive disaster risk reduction and management practices in the community.
But even as we celebrate enactment of the Bill, we must realize that laws and regulations may not solve global climatic changes and erratic weather conditions; environmental consciousness must be instilled in local citizens
if at all we are to reap the fruits of Mother Nature.
Enacting of the legal document and shelving it to gather dust, as is the trend in the region, will not do anyone any good. Ensuring its adoption and full implementation in all the EAC partner states is paramount in dealing with the devastating effects of climatic change.
The partner states must also show financial commitment. It is unfortunate that from the time the regional climate change fund was opened, no partner state has contributed a cent, with the fund remaining with a nil balance in its account.
This means that the region is still dependent on development partners to fund its climate change projects and programmes. It is critical for each of the EAC Partner states to put seed capital in the fund to boost climate change-related programmes
Home-grown solutions as well as traditional knowledge to mitigate environmental hazards arising from erratic weather conditions such as pollution have to be developed.
The EAC Secretariat must aim to work closely with the African Green Fund and the regional Clean Development Management (CDM) collaboration centre to strengthen monitoring and reporting of climate change projects and programmes.
As regional citizens now wait for the adoption and implementation of the Bill, regional leaders must show financial commitment and integrate the regional law into their own country’s national laws. Failure to do this will have rendered useless the five-years effort of intense lobbying and campaigning for its enactment.
Although the Bill is based on the understanding that each partner state bears the primary responsibility to manage and reduce disasters within its territory, regional and international support may sometime be required to supplement domestic efforts.
The international community, development partners and donors should be encouraged to step in and help.
Again, the threat posed by climate change is global, yet the panacea must
of necessity include local remedies. In this regard, the five partner states should promote the use of environmentally-friendly renewable energy sources such as biogas, wind and solar power.
Reducing the cost of materials used to construct biogas units will also be a step in the right direction in this multi-dimensional war.