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Proper institutional alignment: A case of Early Warning System for Disaster Management in Liberia

By Morris T. Koffa, Sr.            Liberia natural disaster

 

According to FrontPageAfricaonline (January 2014), an Early Warning System (EWS) project was officially launched in Liberia to provide climate information and services” to the nation’s vulnerable population.

At a cost of almost $7 million, and for four years, the lead implementers of the EWS project are the Ministry of Transportation (MoT), and the Environmental Protection Agency of Liberia (EPA-L).

It must be applauded that Global Environmental Facility (GEF), United Nations Development Program (UNDP), and the Government of Liberia (GoL) are funding this project considering the high level of disaster vulnerabilities in most of the communities in Liberia (UNDP, 2010).

Lately, flooding, windstorms, sea erosion and other types of climate variability have been on the rise with massive destruction to vulnerable communities. An effective EWS can help reduce the impact of various magnitudes, which is good news for the disaster/emergency community.

The role of EWS to forecast potential dangers cannot be overemphasized. It identifies and maps out potential risks as to the frequency of vulnerability for which appropriate measures are taken to avert or minimize disaster impacts. It is further regarded as an integrated and holistic risk management system that must be government-centered, business-centered and community-centered to confront the power of natural and anthropogenic hazards in a collective context based on the level of vulnerabilities in prone or threatened communities.

An EWS is a precursor and a direct function of disaster-related issues that have complexities; therefore, it needs to be tied to the appropriate entity, especially one that has a historical record of managing disaster or emergency. In this case, the National Disaster Management Commission (NDMC) that has existed under the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) for almost six years; and has been conducting disaster mitigation events (e.g., preparedness, prevention, response to and recovery from) in the territorial border of Liberia, is much preferred for effective continuity.

The EPA-L would come close to handling such responsibility, considering the intrinsic and holistic relationship that runs through environmental degradation from climate variability, induced human activities and disaster in the absence of an NDMC or some sort. Interestingly, an NDMC exists under MIA, so why reinvent the wheel?

When EWS events enter the disaster stage, there must be one command structure that handles the stages of response and recovering in a coordinated fashion. Since NDMC has been functioning in this capacity for quite sometime, one would surmise that it has some level of technical expertise to deal with what is meant by “Early Warning.”

Let’s remember that the EWS at discussion is national in scope and not for a single entity in which case the scenario would be quite different in terms of scope of operation. Disaster responses are complex undertakings, depending on the frequency, and therefore need to be devoid of any potential confusion. In essence, let’s make this Early Warning System less cumbersome for effectiveness and efficiency.

If there is any inherent rationale for the creation of such a system far beyond the broader conventional overarching principal of EWS, I stand corrected. Instead of spreading out the functions or oversight institutions, let’s keep the EWS under one roof.

The current state of vulnerabilities in Liberia makes a compelling argument that the nation cannot go wrong investing in a National Disaster Management Policy (NDMP) scheme that is currently either before the Legislators in the House of Representatives or in the process of going before them.

We need to lobby the Liberian lawmakers to pass the Act creating the National Disaster Management Agency (NDMA). It only makes good policy sense to protect the nation’s growing population and residents of the nation’s capital against post-war climatic conditions.

Recent reports with respect to the level of disaster vulnerabilities in Liberia are  frightening. Disastrous incidents of the past including the 1981 “Camp No Way” landslide, which involved a village of more than 250 people who perished as a result of  unregulated activities at the National Iron Ore Company (NIOC); the contamination of the Farmington River, Saint Paul River and adjacent tributaries operated by LAMCO, Bong Mines, and Firestone; the 2008 hazardous waste in Abidjan that also impacted the Cavalla River; the 2006 fire at the Executive Mansion; the 2009 Army worm infestation that affected over 45 villages including Bong, Lofa and nearby counties, are scary reminder of the past (FAO, 2009).

But that’s not all. The 2006 oil spill in the Borough of New Kru Town and other areas; coastal erosion, massive wave of flooding in recent times; the emerging proliferation and exploration of natural resources such as iron ore, oil, gold, and diamond and other plantation activities, are critical.

Thus, a robust EWS is necessary to educate communities and help prevent or significantly reduce climatic catastrophes. EWS is a very important system that is broadly related to disaster/emergency management for the purposes of saving lives and property.

Interestingly, this discussion of the EWS started under the banner of the “Capacity Needs Assessment in Liberia” as an extension to the “Disaster Risk Assessment in Disaster Risk Reduction” under the Nation Disaster Management Commission (NDMC), attached to the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) in July of 2009 (UNDP, 2009).

I believe in it; and I am of the professional conviction that it should remain under NDMC. It is worth restating that the theme driving all these efforts is an excellent disaster management approach: “Re-building the hydro-meteorological station” for modern forecasting to sharpen and strengthen traditional early warning and communication as well provide local authorities and community leaders to capacity for sensitization building, awareness and utilization of these systems in terms of preparedness and contingency planning.

In October 2012, a National Disaster Management Policy (NDMP) was drafted under the guidance of MIA, awaiting Legislative approval to serve as an autonomous agency solely responsible for disaster/emergency management in Liberia. Perhaps, the Liberian government and funding partners, if need be, should help expedite the process of approving the NDMP to absorb the function of the EWS. EWS is precisely disaster-related and should be linked to the necessary entity.

The NDMC under the MIA, at least, has been promoting or touting disaster management awareness despite its share of capacity building challenges due to the lack of adequate funding. The nation and our partners should mount all efforts because it is the right thing to do, and furthermore, it is a national security issue.

If there are concerns for capacity building, then an evaluation through the concept of SWOT analysis should be conducted to identity the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, thereby making the necessary improvement for viability in this contemporary era that speaks of the nation’s high priority needs of identifying and managing risks, as a global consensus under Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA) of 2005, which came out of the World Conference on Disaster Reduction held in Japan.

In conclusion, the threat of disaster is real, particularly because of Liberia’s current levels of vulnerabilities. Only a sound policy driven entity that incorporates EWS and enforceable rules and regulation will minimize the threats discussed.

The government must take the leadership role and bring all stakeholders, including the industrial, civic and business, religious, youth communities and others together, to support a national framework of disaster prevention and minimization. After all, disaster has no demarcation nor knows any particular person when it strikes.

 

Morris T. Koffa, Sr., ABD, is a doctoral candidate in the School of Public Policy and Administration at Walden University; with concentration in Emergency and Disaster Management. He can be reached at koffamkoffa@aol.com or 240-417-2545.

 

 

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