Africa must improve its emergency preparedness

16 Apr 2015

The number of disasters reported in Africa has increased considerably, with Sub-Saharan Africa experiencing more than one thousand disasters in the last decade. This puts the African continent in great need of a distinct and well defined disaster planning because of the increasing impulsiveness to hazards such as diseases, flooding and drought.

The struggle, therefore, is about not only how Africa must cope but how to both overcome and prevent these unexpected hazards to ensure that economies and daily lives are not crippled in the process.

When the Ebola virus struck Liberia recently, many people thought it would be quickly contained. However, this turned out to be the opposite as it took a long time to be eradicated and is still raging on although at a much less fierce pace than before. According to estimates, Ebola has cost Liberia close to $4 billion.

It has also cost Sierra Leone and Liberia between 7 to 12% of GDP. But the abnormal part is that when you look at the national budgets of these countries, the money that was set aside for disaster management, if ever it were, is nowhere close to the $4 billion it cost to deal with Ebola.

The most probable reasons for this disparity are that many governments underestimate hazards posed by disasters, hence find no need to commit and set aside funds towards disaster management. It is, therefore, important for African governments to seriously take disaster management into account when planning their budgets as disasters have the capacity to cripple economies and the recovery from such experiences costs much more both in monetary terms and loss of human life.

With the increasing number of disasters in Africa, we can no longer treat disasters as events that just happen, but as events that should be well planned for due to their   financial cost and unpredictability. Due to climate change, Southern Africa is increasingly becoming prone to drought which should be a red flag for proactive financial and administrative policies to be implemented.

Lack of funding for implementation and the high susceptibility to disasters are just two amongst many other factors that African governments must pay attention to in order to prevent disasters from affecting our ability to create and build wealth on the continent.

Almost all Western countries have a portion of their national budget strictly directed and committed toward “foreign aid”. That is why they always immediately avail themselves in Africa the moment disaster strikes, and that is commendable. I do not see why our African governments cannot copy such models, or at least have a portion of their national budget directed toward regional aid when such calamities occur. All we are good at is to hold summits on how to prevent disasters, and never on how much money should be pumped to help the countries affected.

Considering the increasing number of disasters, it surely must not be difficult to convince ministries of finance to allocate a reasonable chunk of money toward disasters but governments must also be disciplined enough to leave that money for emergencies alone, unlike what Botswana did a few years ago when the government allegedly used disaster funds for other ancillary purposes.

I read once that building an economy is similar to building a house; if the area you are building on is prone to flooding then you have to prepare financially to address such hurdles during the building process.

Nations in Africa are at increased risk as they are faced with a growing assortment of natural and man-made hazards which are likely to increase in frequency due to climate change. Therefore, preparedness is the answer as this reduces impact. Unlike the developed world, Africa is more vulnerable to the shocks of disasters because of both political and economic instability.

With Botswana reportedly having enough cereals to last only for 12 months due to drought, the Kenyan drought must provide an example of how lack of planning and failure to set aside finances contributes to the high cost of a disaster.

Nothing beats preparedness and Africa better understand this.