Hurricane Sandy came in the heat of the campaigns for the US presidential election. There had been adequate warnings about the advancing storm that had wreaked havoc in Bahamas, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Haiti and Jamaica. But when it hit the US, it was with a devastating blow. Some suburbs in New York City such as Queens, Brooklyn, Manhattan and Staten Island were worst hit. The incident affected fuel and electricity supplies in some areas. Houses were submerged. Sandy knocked out power to more than 8.5 million customers in 21 states. At least, 121people have reportedly died and there is an estimated $50bn in property damage and economic losses.
In August 2005, it was Hurricane Katrina that killed over 1,800 people in the US states of Louisiana and Mississippi. Last August, Hurricane Isaac, which swept through New Orleans in the US, killed at least 23 people. In some other parts of the world, like Japan, tsunami is the main problem. Nigeria, though relatively lucky with nature, has also been experiencing severe weather lately.
In Lagos, the state government has warned about the likely effects of Hurricane Sandy on the state. Its Commissioner for Waterfront Development and Infrastructure, Adesegun Oniru, projected that within seven to 14 days, the state might experience the ripple effects of the hurricane on its coastlines. Oniru based his projection on past experiences and records. The warning, he said, “is not to cause panic in Lagos, but to place us all on the alert that if we notice anything unusual (on) our coastlines, we should not go near the waters but rather call government attention.”
So far, nothing of such has happened. Yet, climate change is already having an impact on the country. The Nigerian Meteorological Agency has warned of more natural disasters ahead caused by unfavourable weather conditions. But a few things can be done before severe weather strikes. Experts warn that preparedness is vital in the event of man-made and natural disasters. Knowing what to do during an emergency is an important part of being prepared and may make all the difference when seconds count. Some of the things you can do to prepare for the unexpected, such as making an emergency supply kit and developing an emergency plan, are the same for both natural and man-made emergencies.
It is good that the state government alerted the citizens on time. The state government, according to the commissioner, is also planning to protect Majidun, Kuramo, Oniru, Alpha beaches and other areas prone to ocean surge in Lagos. Luckily, we have not had any serious natural disaster in the magnitude of a hurricane or tsunami. The worst we have had are flooding and some man-made disasters such as fire and plane crashes. But beyond the government’s alert and promises, are we really prepared for serious natural disasters?
Past experiences indicate we are not. The recent examples are the Kuramo ocean surge in Lagos and the Dana plane crash at Iju Ishaga area of Lagos. In the two incidents, rescue efforts were late in coming while some Kuramo surge victims failed to heed the warnings concerning the looming danger. At the end, precious lives were unnecessarily lost.
The handling of the recent floods that affected many states of the federation that killed a total of 363 people since July, did not fare better. Beyond the warning about the floods, nothing much was done until they came and consumed many lives and property. The best the Federal Government has done has been to set up a committee headed by billionaire businessman, Aliko Dangote, to source relief funds for the victims.
The Nigerian government should begin to look for a permanent response to certain disasters, given the climate change all over the world, especially since natural disasters have become part and parcel of humanity. As a starting point, it should adequately equip and empower such agencies as the National Emergency Management Agency to be able to tackle any disaster with dispatch and efficiency. It should also set up camps where people could be evacuated to if need be. It should be prepared to enforce this evacuation when the need arises.
Non-governmental organisations such as the Red Cross should begin to prepare, not just for the effect of Hurricane Sandy on Lagos, but also for other emergencies that may arise from time to time.
Generally, Nigerians should drop their negative and selfish approach to disaster management. In saner countries such as in Japan, people tend to be more honest and forthcoming in rendering assistance to victims of disasters. But in our society, which is about the most religious in the world, some deviants concern themselves with looting the property of the victims. For many of us, religion is not about serving humanity but for selfish interests. Even some of those entrusted with relief materials for disaster victims, sometimes, end up hoarding and diverting them.
It is time we showed more than a passing interest in curbing disasters in the country. This should cut across communities, homes, schools and in the work place. It will enable citizens to know the safest places to seek shelter when at home, work, school, or outdoors. Relevant government agencies should do more to curb the unhealthy habit of dumping refuse in drainage channels. People should avoid driving, walking, or swimming in flood waters; stay away from high water, storm drains, ditches, ravines, or culverts. It is said that even moving water only six inches deep can knock you off your feet.
People should not gamble with their lives during natural disasters and extreme weather. They must always remember that their safety, and the safety of those in their care, is up to them.