Sierra Leone Telegraph: 28 November 2020:
Thousands of people have died unnecessarily across Sierra Leone, especially in the capital Freetown – due to poor disaster management planning and response. In August 2017, over one thousand people – mainly children and the elderly were killed by a mudslide in Freetown, after heavy and persistent rain.
This was not the first, nor the last of such calamitous man-made disasters in Sierra Leone. But all that is about to change.
On Thursday 19 November 2020, President Dr Julius Maada Bio launched the country’s first, dedicated National Disaster Management Agency (NDMA), and expressed hope that the agency will use science, innovation and data to predict, anticipate, plan for, and report on the full disaster management cycle.
“I have already identified new technologies that can be used to great effect. I am also challenging this agency to work with the Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation to develop a robust, Sierra Leone made disaster management digital system.
“I also believe that mitigation and climate change resilience must be done in close collaboration with communities. Communities must have a vested interest, and must participate in dialogues on disaster preparedness and management. Youth and women must be accorded a central role in your work. Close collaboration with local government and the private sector will be particularly useful to your work. So, I expect you to develop strategies and structure well-defined and sustainable relationships,” he said.
He noted that the UN Resident Coordinator and World Bank Representative have suggested opportunities for global partnerships, adding that he expected the agency to leverage bilateral and multilateral cooperation in that area.
“Innovative partnerships with other disaster management agencies are possible. As a country, I also believe that we can identify innovative ways of funding disaster management that will be less onerous on our limited budget. I expect this agency to develop those forward-looking and effective policies and also guide the Government on how to plan investments in disaster management,” the President said.
In his welcome address earlier, Chief Minister Prof. David John Francis (Photo), credited for the establishment of the agency, said the launching of the agency is in fulfilment of commitments made in the New Direction manifesto to set up the agency and in the Medium-Term National Development Plan, with cluster 7 addressing vulnerabilities and building resilience.
“First, the Office of National Security (ONS) has an existing Directorate for Disaster Management, so the new National Disaster Management Agency will hit the ground running because ONS will provide the institutional home for core expertise to help the operationalisation of the Agency.
“Second, we have indication of committed and enthusiastic bilateral and multilateral donors who are on standby, I understand, to support the operationalisation of the Agency,” he said.
World Bank Country Manager, Gayle Martin, said the role of any disaster management agency is multi-disciplinary and cross-cutting in nature, adding that it is therefore relevant to all sectors of the economy.
“Managing disaster risk requires a high level of coordination and convening power to work across a variety of stakeholders and sectors. The NDMA, therefore, requires the authority and ability to activate, or cause to activate, national emergency measures at the time of a disaster. It is also required to convene MDAs across sectors at the highest level – both during times of emergency, as well as in disaster prevention and preparedness.
“In the roll-out of the NDMA we are supporting the government to develop two key timely activities: Firstly, the National Disaster Risk Management Policy is being updated to reflect new institutional arrangements and realities on the ground. Secondly, an Emergency Preparedness and Response Plan will be developed to ensure operational procedures and standards are in place in advance of future disasters,” she said.
United Nations Resident Coordinator, Dr. Babatunde Ahonsi (Photo), said the Sierra Leone UN office is ready to build the capacities and capabilities of the agency to rapidly and robustly respond to disasters, build skills in information management, coordination, operational readiness and response.
“The 2017 landslide response was a testimony of the strong partnership between Government and the United Nations and we look forward to continued partnerships with the National Disaster Management Agency and the Office of National Security,” he said.
Director-General of the National Disaster Management Agency, Lt. General (Rtd.) Brima Bureh Sesay (Photo below), said their approach would be scientific, especially in the development of assessment tools, risk identification, analysis, indexing and interpretation, hazard mapping, vulnerability and capacity assessment, coordination, building knowledge.
“The Agency will strive towards accomplishing various targets and indicators encapsulated in the Sendai Framework agreed by the United Nations Disaster Risk Reduction, ensure implementation of the African strategy for disaster risk reduction and work towards effective enforcement of the National Disaster Management Act 2020,” he assured.
This is President Bio’s full statement:
“Honourable Vice President, Ministers of Government, Members of Parliament, Development Partners, Senior Government Officials present, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, good morning:
The morning of August 14, 2017 was another grim reminder of our vulnerability as a nation. As I have said before, when we do not live in harmony with nature, nature has a way of registering its disapproval in very tragic ways. May the souls of our compatriots who died in that disaster and several others preceding that one continues to rest in perfect peace.
That sad day was an inflection point in our history. It gave us pause for thought about our vulnerability as a nation. Sierra Leone is rated as one of the most vulnerable to climate change. I am informed that 13% of the country’s area and more than 35% of the population are at risk to disasters.
In the last 15 years, 4 major floods have affected 220,000 people and caused severe loss of lives and economic damage. Add that to the food security and health crises, damaged infrastructure, and the forestalment of our national development, and it is obvious that as a nation, we cannot afford another disaster.
The incoming Director General noted earlier that emergencies and disasters impact property, critical infrastructure, the economy, and the environment. But moreover, they impact people and communities. Development is about people and a vulnerable people and nation cannot achieve sustainable development.
As far back as 2012, when I launched my first bid for the presidency, I saw this as a severe governance problem that had to be tackled. Disaster recovery and management was therefore central to my party’s governance pledge to this nation even back then.
As the Chief Minister has already indicated, we further made a commitment in the New Direction Manifesto to “remove disaster management from the Office of National Security and establish a specialized national agency for disaster preparedness and management.”
In our Medium term National Development Plan, we made a strong case that building a resilient state is critical for sustainable and inclusive development. So our establishment of the National Disaster Management Agency was a promise made. Today, it is a promise delivered.
But beyond a promise kept, the National Disaster Management Agency is a permanent institution for making our nation more resilient. It is expected to be a standalone agency of experts, leaders, and policymakers on disaster management. It will help us anticipate, understand, manage, recover from, and minimise the impact of disasters on lives and livelihoods, without forestalling the long-term prospects for national development.
But as a nation, we need to understand the drivers of disaster risks. Unplanned urbanisation and settlement along floodplains, hills, waterways, with little to no consideration that those practices expose people and their assets to natural hazards should be curbed. Ecosystem decline due to human activities, — including deforestation, outmoded farming cultures and practices, biodiversity loss, and more, — must be tackled.
Added to this, we have not quite developed a history of anticipating and planning for disasters. We have not quite mapped out vulnerable populations and geographical areas and put in place holistic and effective preventive or mitigating measures. Inadequate funding should not be an excuse for not crafting effective regulations and risk management measures, or raising awareness among vulnerable populations.
Inadequate funding is no excuse for not coordinating effectively among and across ministries, departments, and agencies when disaster strikes. It should not stop us from thinking about how to maximise close collaboration with multilateral and bilateral partners; or even developing innovative funding strategies.
We also do not have a history of harnessing the power of new technologies and innovation to collect data or to use that data to map, monitor, model, and therefore anticipate natural disasters. We have not developed and consistently updated hazard mapping for our entire country. Have we increased the use of satellite imagery, GIS, and remote sensing for that purpose?
We have not adequately used ICT for developing public information and awareness applications or tools about natural disasters. We have also not intensified its use in disaster management and recovery.
Due to climate change, rainfall patterns may be unpredictable. But we can put in place warning and forecasting systems that effectively capture and disseminate information about natural hazards that could result from those unpredictable rainfall patterns.
While we cannot stop natural hazards, they should not become disasters from which we will struggle to rebuild. All alone, as a country, we cannot afford the cost of disaster management, recovery, and rebuilding. So the tasks, or rather, expectations of this new agency are massive.
Remember that the state has primary responsibility for disaster risk reduction. I expect you to align your strategies with sub-regional and multilateral policies on disaster management such as the ECOWAS policy on disaster risk reduction, the African strategy for disaster risk reduction, and the Sendai Framework that is ultimately in consonance with the Sustainable Development Goals.
I expect you to provide leadership, generate knowledge and expertise, build global partnerships, and produce innovative thinking on disaster management. (Photo: President Bio speaking at the launch).
The UN Resident Coordinator and World Bank Representative have suggested opportunities for global partnerships. I expect this agency to leverage bilateral and multilateral cooperation in the area. Innovative partnerships with other disaster management agencies are possible.
As a country, I also believe that we can identify innovative ways of funding disaster management that will be less onerous on our limited budget. I expect this agency to develop those forward-looking and effective policies and also guide the Government on how to plan investments in disaster management.
Also, as previous speakers have noted, the work of this agency is essentially cross sectoral. I also believe that mitigation and climate change resilience must be done in close collaboration with communities. Communities must have a vested interest in and must participate in dialogues on disaster preparedness and management.
Youth and women must be accorded a central role in your work. Close collaboration with local Government and the private sector will be particularly useful to your work. So I expect you to develop strategies and structure well-defined and sustainable relationships.
I have intimated that the agency can use science, innovation, and data to predict, anticipate, plan for, and report on the full disaster management cycle. I have already identified new technologies that can be used to great effect. I am also challenging this agency to work with the Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation to develop a robust, Sierra Leone-made disaster management digital system.
Before closing, let me publicly thank the Chief Minister for his leadership in making this Agency possible. Let me also thank international partners, staff of the ONS, and all persons and institutions that have worked assiduously in making this day possible.
With the National Disaster Management Agency, we are confident that we can anticipate better, plan better, mitigate risks better, respond better, recover better, and rebuild better. We will protect lives and livelihoods better and protect our national development gains. It is my singular honour, therefore, to formally launch the National Disaster Management Agency of Sierra Leone.”
Disaster policy frameworks must promote decentralization as a requirement of good disaster governance across the country. It is believed to contribute to good disaster governance by increasing local capacity and by bringing viewpoints and awareness through local actor participation. Decentralization is further believed to advance disaster management activities as disaster risks manifest themselves locally.
I am glad to hear that something is being done at last about rescue services in Freetown which were non-existent in my time up to 2004. A lot of lives were lost from drowning when helicopters fell into the sea.
The National Disaster Management Agency (NDMA) is a very good initiative considering the fact that “Sierra Leone is ranked as the third most vulnerable country” in the world “in the global ranking of natural hazard risks”. This has been exacerbated by “climate change, un-planned development and urbanisation”. Therefore, the need for an independent institution that will monitor the probable occurrence of natural disasters and as well as the formulation of contingency plans for facilitated recovery and reconstruction, cannot be underestimated. However, the critical question is: can Sierra Leone afford another environmental institution, department or agency?
The Ministry of Environment (MoE), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Office of National Security (ONS), the newly created Forest Guards (FG), are all one way or another geared towards the preservation of the environment. So, what is so special about the NDMA? Why can’t the NDMA be incorporated in one of the above institutions? Is the NDMA just another begging reservoir for international donor funds? Or, is it another QUANGO institution expediently created to reward an SLPP stalwart? In the absence of a natural disaster, and as a consequence, a lack of steady stream of donor funds from the international community, such an institution will create an unnecessary marginal impact on an already exploded government wage bill.
Further, if the functions and remit of the NDMA are not properly defined, there is a great potential for this agency to conflict with the mandate of the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces (RSLAF). This is exemplary as seen in the recent fracas between the Sierra Leone Police (SLP) and the newly created Forest Guards. There is also the likelihood of dispute between some of these agencies and the local communities. In actual fact, it is alleged that the general public visualize the Forest Guards as a Kamajor guerrilla unit – a private militia of the SLPP, paid from taxpayers money. In the name of sound management of the economy, some of these environmental agencies may prove to be irrelevant and a complete waste of much needed resources.
Great news. But do they have the experts to design and implement the smart systems for early warning signals to prevent the disasters we face in Sierra Leone? I will ask bra Sahr to read this article. I know he has completed many smart systems as he calls them in his lab. More importantly, he is a qualified robotics, electronics and communications engineer. He works a lot with sensors and smart systems. God bless Bra Sahr.
President Bio’s, indicated the use of technology and data mapping technology as means of planning for future disaster management is not unexpected, given his government failure to tackle the problem of mafia style deforestation going on in Sierra Leone. In reality, planning for future scenarios by itself is not an indication of predictions of future outcomes, rather to help mitigated, or prevent the disaster taking place in the first place. More like the state is taking out an insurance policy for any future environmental disasters, that might occur since his government is doing very little at tackling the alarming rate out forests are disappearing.
Lessons learnt from historical events like the flooding we experienced in Freetown in 2017, will go a long way to help policy makers in the new National disaster management team to use their cognitive flexibility to better understand how to shape and adapt any future emergencies that might be lurking in the corner. Apart from the effect of climate change, majority of the problems of Sierra Leone are MAN-MADE. The words that are lacking that is stifling our development is effective management and planning.
The environmental damage caused by deforestation around the Freetown peninsula, and the building of structures in these areas without any planning permission, in terms of disaster prevention taken into consideration, can only be attributed to a government that has not only lost control of events, but trying to play catch up. Different approaches are required both by the government and communities at large. And one of the key methods to go about it, is to deploy the carrot and stick.
Firstly educate the public about the effect of their activities to the environment, and the dangers it poses to everyone, and lastly, punish those who flout the rules. It is all well and good to create the National disaster management, and all the planning that goes with it, but predicting the future is a fool’s errand.