Disaster Mgt: Understanding “Self-Help”, “Mutual-Help” and “Public-Help”

By Abubakar Jimoh

In Nigeria, in spite of continuous sensitization that disaster management is everyone’s responsibilities, yet individuals and state governments still rely heavily on federal government as a sole responder.

Given the global accelerating dreadful experiences from disasters, in 2011, Committee for Policy Planning on Disaster Management, Japan came up with such ideas to familiarise its people with personal, mutual and public responsibilities in distress situations. The fundamental ideas led to the formulation of “Self-Help”, “Mutual-Help” and “Public-Help” in the country.

According to the committee, the basic ideas of disaster management should legally stipulate the philosophy and the roles of “self-help”, where people and enterprise protect their own lives and assets; “mutual-help”, where people of the community, enterprises, volunteers, relatives organizations and others collaborate to protect the safety of the region, and “public-help” by the central and local governments.

Similarly, the Director General of National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), Alhaji Muhammad Sani-Sidi, emphasised three basic concepts in his book titled: “Disaster Management is Everybody Business” saying “It is therefore, everybody’s business and we must all put our hands on deck to ensure effective disaster management by regularly evolving strategies, policies and programmes so as to reduce loss of lives and property in our communities, thereby facilitating development.”

Apparently, collective teamwork among the three concepts—Self-Help, Mutual-Help and Public-Help will help at individuals, states, and at national level to significantly reduce the impact of disasters and effective capacity building for and coordination of relief operations, preparedness, response, and recovery activities.

More importantly, “Self-help” can be encouraged and promoted by driving with care and obeying traffic rules, avoid building on waterways, observing proper precautions against fire outbreaks, seeking due professional consultations before erection of building, confirmation and memorization of Emergency Free Toll Calls during normalcy, understanding disaster management information sources and methods of utilisation.

“Self-help” programmes are organised by the disaster management actors, just as Youths Against Disaster Initiative (YADI) is currently doing across the six geo-political zones in the country; by training and offering “self-help” principles to volunteers in communities and encouraging them to spread the awareness among their members as a way of replicating the effort.

Recognising from various experiences that community capacity to directly respond to, and reduce the risks of disasters was a critical need of the communities, the NEMA Boss, Alhaji Muhammad Sani-Sidi has been working tirelessly with local and international experts to develop a series of community “self-help” and education tools to make disaster management effective and accessible to all.

Consequently, many practical “self-help” resources like self-help manual, activity books and other resources that teach community based disaster management and environmental stewardship have recently been developed.

“Mutual-help” should also be encouraged by offering support to voluntary disaster management organizations, NGOs, and volunteers. In this case, measures for accepting volunteers in various disaster management areas such as securing safety during activities, providing information on affected people’s needs, and other issues should be well established.

Also, “mutual-help” can involve assistance between agencies, organizations, and jurisdictions that provide a mechanism to quickly obtain emergency assistance in the form of personnel, equipment, materials, and other associated services. The primary objective is to facilitate rapid, short-term deployment of emergency support prior to, during, and after an incident.

The initiatives and diversity of activities by NGOs, associations, foundations and other actors should be recognized, respected and appreciated. Also, bottom-up disaster management plans should be organized in order to promote awareness-sharing regarding disaster management activities and collaboration by diverse actors in communities.

“Public-help” involves assistance from the federal, state and local governments as case may be. For instance, as part of the federal government’s effort towards the nation’s socio-economic sustainability, NEMA was mandated to ensure effective coordination in each phase of disaster management. The state governments through their respective SEMAs should serve as first responder in the event of emergency.

Moreover, the level of vulnerability at state and grassroot levels will determine the necessity for NEMA’s intervention. In case of mild and manageable hazards, the state and local councils– the SEMAs and LEMA are expected carry out their Constitutional responsibilities on disaster management by making use of the ecological and other funds in their disposal. The states are expected to set pace and ensure functional administrative capacity at grassroots level for the Local Emergency Management Committees (LEMCs) to follow.

Abubakar Jimoh is the National Coordinator, Youths Against Disaster (YADI), and lives in Abuja.

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