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Opinion: Implement disaster management policy

By Patrick Alushula | February 22nd 2017
It is a matter of the same script being presented in a different year. While the national government has set aside Sh16 billion to rescue the nation from sad faces of starving Kenyans, county governments have pledged Sh1 million each in response.PHOTO:COURTESY

Once again, various government and non-governmental bodies are doing everything possible to save Kenyans from ravaging drought.

It is a matter of the same script being presented in a different year. While the national government has set aside Sh16 billion to rescue the nation from sad faces of starving Kenyans, county governments have pledged Sh1 million each in response.

Other bodies like the Kenya Red Cross that have been synonymous with swift response to disasters are swinging into action. And National Treasury is considering setting up a National Drought Emergency Fund to mitigate effects of drought in future.

In fact, it has already deposited Sh2 billion with plans of depositing similar amounts every financial year.This may not do much for over 2 million Kenyans spread across 13 counties to whom the next meal means the difference between survival and death.

While Treasury’s proposal sounds good, it only adds to a long ‘to-do businesses’ that successive governments have been piling for over 16 years when it comes to disaster response. Some 17 years after coming up with a draft policy for formation of a National Disaster Management Authority to ensure coordinated efforts in dealing with crises, the document continues to gather dust.

And as Kenya dithers, neighbouring countries Uganda, Ethiopia and Rwanda have taken the Kenyan draft, modified it to fit their various needs and passed it into a policy for their countries. It is not surprising that Uganda, out of improved planning, can afford to export maize to Kenya.

Those born in 1998 when a bomb hit Nairobi, killing hundreds of people, or during the devastating effects of 1997 El Nino rains are now adults, but the quest to have uniform policy for responding to disasters remains just that; a wish.

In the absence of this, the country has turned to various bodies such as National Disaster Operation Centre, National Disaster Management Unit, and National Drought Management unit.

This, as various studies have found, has increased costs of response, led to uncoordinated reactions and only dealt with symptoms, not the root causes.

For instance, the 1999-2001 drought that affected 4.5 million people and killed close to 70 per cent of livestock in arid and semi-arid areas saw the government use Sh$340 million. Yet a 2002 study dubbed ‘The Cost of Delayed Response’ by disaster management experts estimated that just about a half of that cost - $171 million would have been enough to address the situation.

However, by relying on uncoordinated approach, a lot of money had to be diverted from development expenditure to save the dying Kenyans. In 2015, the National Government set aside Sh15 billion in anticipation of a repeat of the El Nino menace. Not so much information is available on how the money was used or if it was returned to the contingency fund kitty.

Currently, the country seems to be relying on the outdated tool of management by crisis that says if it is not broken don’t fix it. Yet for Kenya, in trying to be reactive than proactive, it has only meant some parts of the country will never attain the status of 55 years of independence.

The much publicised Standard Gauge Railway means nothing for that starving man in Tana River whose wife and children are lying helpless in the scorching sun.

That ambitious rural electrification programme cannot light up the spirit of a village whose animals are dead and their children are malnourished. The free education programme has no use to that poor boy whose stomach has been empty for a month. And that ‘your-vote-your-future’ slogan cannot be of any use to a family that is only counting hours before death.

With a National Disaster Management Policy, this heart-breaking situation could have been avoided, or at worst mitigated. It is the only document that carries answers to disasters that are likely to occur, how they can be avoided, what their likely impact is, who should respond, when to respond and with what.

Applying answers to all these and other questions could have seen machineries that the State, private sector and donors get applied in a more organised manner.

In its 55fth year after independence, a country that boasts of one of the most civilised constitutions in the world, pumping billions into infrastructure, thinking about Sustainable Development Goals and viewed as third largest economy in Africa, should not leave its citizens to the dogs.

Every Kenyan deserves better. These uncoordinated efforts towards addressing perennial disasters are wasteful. Can someone dust off that document and implement it?



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