Need for public awareness on harmattan-related disasters

By Abubakar Jimoh

The high rate of fire disasters that is associated with harmattan season, leading to loss of thousands of lives as well as property worth billions of naira, are gradually becoming an odd ritual that is raising public concerns in Nigeria.

In an estimated 7, 129 fire incidents, about 990 lives are reportedly lost in the country annually. In 2008, the United State Fire Administration (USFA) in a statistical analysis revealed that about 3, 320 deaths and 17, 000 related injuries were caused by series of fire accidents. The deaths, USFA said, are associated with fire accidents result not only from burns, but also from smoke inhalation and toxic gases. For example, a fire disaster hit the Nandnagari community of Eastern Delhi, India, the Nigerian victims of fire mishap in Saudi Arabia in November 2011, as well as, three construction workers of a Dallas skyscraper in December, 2014, are among other enormous fire-related cases.

It was against this backdrop that Youths Against Disaster Initiative (YADI) conducted a study to interrogate and understand the causes of fire outbreaks in various parts of the country.

YADI’s finding have shown that most fire disasters emanate from accidents and carelessness via electrical outlets, faulty wiring, electrical appliances, heating gadgets, unattended stove and gases, children’s attitudes towards inflammable materials, among others.

However, in a bid to raise public consciousness and sensitisations on the ways of avoiding reoccurrence of the fire incidence and reoccurrence of fire-related disasters across the country, the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) has advised that individuals and organisations should develop the Early Warning Alerts system while making use of flammable items like matches, lights, stoves, electrical appliances. The Agency had also caution the people against engaging in indiscriminate bush burning which could easily trigger fire in their homes, markets, offices and farms etc to curtail tragedies induced by the harmattan season.

As part of the measures against fire outbreak, NEMA had also recommended several useful guidelines in order to prevent fire disasters in the country. Individuals are advised to avoid smoking in bed and properly douse their cigarettes in water before disposal to avoid re-ignition. They emphasised the fact that smoking is one of the common causes of fire outbreaks in homes, offices including public domains; as experiences have revealed that disastrous fire occurrences to have resulted from re-ignited discard cigarettes that were not properly extinguished.

Nonetheless, proactive individual alertness, volunteer system and activation of automatic fire detection systems are very crucial step to aid early detection of fire. There is the need to put in place a smoke detector is an effective way to combat fire disasters. A smoke detector is a device that detects smoke, typically as an indicator of fire.

Mass residential devices can be installed in industry, commercial complexes to issue a signal to a fire alarm system; while in homes, household detectors such as smoke alarms can be installed to generally issue a local audible and visual alarm on anticipated fire.

Kitchen is another environment known to be prone to fire outbreak and kitchen users have been advised to avoid leaving cooking pots and pans unattended even for a short while, as several fire incidents at homes had been attributed laxity on the part of users. It is also important to ensure that gas tank, ovens, and stoves are shut off to avoid leakage of flammables and food burning. Also, while in the kitchen, it would be wise to avoid wearing loose clothes that easily catch fire.

We must not leave burning candles unattended, and avoid placing them near flammables like air vent, plastic, carpet or windows where they can be knocked down by wind. Keep candles, matches, lighters and other flammable materials out of children’s reach.

A study conducted by United States Burn Awareness Coalition revealed that matches and lighters in hands of children have resulted to burns which constitute the major cause of accidental deaths in children under the age of two; while fire and burn injuries are the second leading cause of accidental deaths among children between age 1 to 4 years, and the third leading cause of injury and death between age 1 to 18.

Electrical appliances are another cause of fire outbreaks. Remember to turn off and unplug your electrical appliance after use; and avoid placing them near sources of heating like the store, fire place, or furnace. In 2011, an Indian safety expert, Srinivas Katta identified such electrical conditions that can be fire hazardous to include damaged electrical conductors, overloaded sockets and extension cords, faulty wirings, blown fuses, low quality electrical equipment, malfunctioned electrical devices, and loose electrical connections.

Installation of standardized fire extinguishers at strategic places in homes and offices has become imperative. Avoid using wrong fire extinguishers; and learn how to use it. Mostly, fires are extinguished by water or sand. Special foam chemicals are used in case of oil fire; electric fires are extinguished by switching off electricity and using carbon-di-oxide to extinguish the fire. Forest fires can be extinguished by beating the burning bushes using hand tools and by cutting a strip through forest to prevent fire from spreading.

Creating workable fire escape route, and teaching your family how to use it in case of emergency is essential. This is because if a fire breaks out, it is very easy to become disoriented by smoke, flames and darkness. Pre-emptive measures enhance effective preparedness and response against fire outbreak. Thus, escape route should be designed in such a way that any person confronted by fire anywhere in the building can escape to a place totally safe from the building.

Apart from fire outbreak as common disaster in this season, there is urgent need for all levels of government like those of other parts of the world, to step up their quest towards ensuring vivacious health care system in the country giving the fact there has been recorded increasing outbreaks of harmattan-related diseases including cholera that result in several deaths annually.

Cholera is acute enteric infection caused by the ingestion of bacterium Vibrio cholerae present in faecally contaminated water or food, currently spreading across the Northern part Nigeria like a hurricane.

Unlike other diarrhoeal diseases, it kills healthy adults within hours. The epidemic is characterized by profuse watery diarrhea, vomiting, and leg cramps. Through these, an infected person, rapid losses body fluids which lead to dehydration and shock; and in absence of treatment or early awareness, death can occur within hours.

In several occasions, NEMA has encouraged communities to protect themselves against cholera by adhering to proper food and water safety practices as well as to good personal hygiene. Sanitation is so important to the health and well-being of the people, as without good, clean sanitation systems leads to emergence and spread of epidemic. Improper disposal and accumulation of rubbishes in our surrounding result to micro-organisms that transform into Cholera epidemic that harms thousands. Poor sanitation results to blocked drainages and further damage to infrastructural facilities.

Similarly, the key to effective control of cholera is environmental sanitation. It has been argued those human beings are surrounded by thousands of harmful organisms. In the 2011 5 years survey of 4 different communities conducted by the WHO, it was obtained that the provision of sanitary facilities for human waste disposal can reduce the incidence of cholera by as much as 68%.

In recent studies conducted by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), it was discovered that regular hand-washing practices with soap after defecating and before eating or preparing food have helped to reduce the incidence of diarrhea by almost 50% which is the second leading cause of death among children under 5 years old, in parts of the world. The practices have also reduced to the barest minimum, the incidence of other diseases; notably pneumonia, trachoma, skin and eyes infections, Cholera and dysentery among.

The United States Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP) has recommended good personal health and good hygiene such as avoiding regular touching of eyes, nose or mouth; frequent hand-washing with soap and water; covering coughs and sneezes; avoiding contact with sick people; shunning smoking; and staying at home during sickness among others, are the effective ways to reducing transmission of influenza.

Awareness is an important factor that every individual must embrace to avoid being a victim of epidemic outbreak. In respect of this, NEMA and relevant stakeholders must strengthen its existing alert on various epidemic outbreaks. Also Each State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) must initiate a sensitization campaign through massive use of mass media across the state, and maintain constant communication with effective step-down support to Local Emergency Management Committee (LEMC) in the grassroots in the country.

Abubakar Jimoh is the National Coordinator, Youths Against Disaster Initiative (YADI).


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