Friday, December 3, 2021

Absence of overarching disaster legislation threatens national safety

Seven years later, government’s failure to develop an overarching legislation that would set down clear requirements and define the relationships and mechanisms that are essential to ensure disaster management in Botswana functions effectively, still exposes the country to continual risk of life threatening disasters.

A number of indicators in that direction cited by the Office of the Auditor General (OAG) in a 2006 report after conducting an audit of the performance of the National Disaster Management Office (NDMO) remain unaltered.

Moagi Baleseng, Director of the National Disaster Management Office (NDMO) under the Office of the President (OP), acknowledged in an interview that development of all-encompassing umbrella legislation is still outstanding, notwithstanding concerns raised years ago about its implications.
“It is true that such a law has not been produced yet but that is not due to lack of appreciation of its importance. Rather, it would appear that this was mainly because the thinking in government has been that existing pieces of legislation may be enough,” responded Baleseng.

A clause in the constitution that provided for the President being empowered to act in times of emergency to take decisions for intervention is pointed out as one example that gave a sense of comfort, and several other acts at Ministerial levels such as the Forestry and Natural Resources Act, Radiation Act as well as the Animal Epidemics act.

“I must, however, admit that such a law would serve as an enabler so that it empowers one to deliver on the mandate. Moreover, at present, relevant officers responsible at Ministerial level hold the view that they are accountable to the seniors as in the order of the hierarchy of government, rather than to me as the overall Coordinator for national disaster management in the country,” noted Baleseng.

Furthermore, their function and supervision is defined in the context of a sector based rather than national set of actions as would generally be expected to also reflect in a national master plan that would inform the overarching legislation referred to by the OAG.

To that extent, Baleseng posited that there was indeed a shared concern for the need for such a law, adding that it would have to be preceded by a thorough review of the existing pieces of legislations to minimise unnecessary duplication.

To filter his responses, he said, “As many challenges as there may be, I feel that the concern for the absence of all-encompassing umbrella legislation is over stated as if we ever failed to respond to a disaster on the basis of its nonexistence.”

The National Disaster Management Technical Committee responsible for advising NDMO has been accused of failing to carry out its mandate of ensuring that disaster management was incorporated into the planning processes.

Their failure allegedly resulted in buildings and roads, such as a petrol station at the Gaborone Village, the Molapo Crossing shopping Complex (Gaborone) and the Mochudi-Gaborone High Way via Sebele as well as Segoditshane Road in Broadhurst being built in flood prone areas.

Again the awareness of risk management as part of the development planning was found inadequate among regional planners. That was after breach of land use planning at national level and the negligible integration of potential disasters in the allocation of land for residential purposes in a good number of districts by the land Boards and other authorities entrusted with land allocation.

To that end the OAG singled out the Departments of lands and land boards in general as having allocated plots in flood disaster prone areas such as Gaborone Block 5 (BHC houses) and Mochudi (Raserura Ward).

As if the OAG’s observation did not suffice, reference was made to Fire Experts statement of concern at the vulnerability of the Government Enclave to fire hazards. In that light, Gaborone Urban Development Plan 2 2003-2009 states, “A medium of fire in any of these areas will result in great loss of property and even lives as there was inadequate flow and pressure of water.”

Internationally, the rate of flow of water was supposed to be +/_11000 litres per minute for a period of six hours, whilst in effect Water utilities Corporation (WUC) was only providing +/_1/3 of the minimum requirements. The Auditor General lamented that this was against a stipulation made to provide water on its mains considered adequate to extinguish fires within the planning area.

A Disaster Management Specialist who preferred anonymity told The Sunday Standard that, “Without a law conferring legal authority on the NDMO, it would even be difficult to begin to instruct engineers, land specialists and other authorities as to what in their purview does not conform to disaster management.”

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