From 2007-2009, Liberia was severely hit by flash flood that doubtlessly affected and displaced huge or sizable number of people especially in Montserrado and other places. According to the National Disaster Relief Commission (NDRC) and Liberia National Red Cross Society (LNRCS), in 2007 22,000 persons were displaced by flood in fantitown in Buchanan, New Kru town in Robersport, Grand Cape Mount County. In 2008, the Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN) online source reported that Monrovia experienced the worst flood that displaced about 1,000 persons mainly in King Gray community in Paynesville and Fish Market in Sinkor.
From 2009-2013, Liberia was severely hit by windstorm that also displaced huge number of people mainly in Karnplay in Nimba County, Kolahun and Kpakamai in Lofa County in which about 30 houses were damaged on 26 April 2013 and Grand Bassa County in which a 13 year old girl leg was subsequently amputated at the John F. Kennedy Medical Centre due to a collapse building that mashed her leg at Atlantic Street while running toward home for survival.
Then came the infamous Caterpillar Invasion of 2009 and again in 2012 in Margibi, Bong, Gbapolu, Nimba, Lofa, Sinoe, RiverGee, and Maryland that doubtlessly affected substantial number of people. According to the NDRC, over 4,456 persons were affected due to creek pollution and crops damaged in Southern parts of Liberia.
From the above occurrences of disasters backed by statistics or figures though not exhaustive, one would have thought that we as a people and nation would have learned a lesson for building a culture of safety and resilience critical for emergency preparedness and response. (Proactive). Unfortunately, our comfort zones deleted the melancholic memories of the past as such, Ebola virus arguably and mendaciously perceived as natural disaster carried by monkeys, fruit eating bats killed and continue to kill hundreds of Liberians and other foreign humanitarian volunteers and at the same time stigmatize Liberian in other parts of world affected by Ebola transmitted by Liberians.
As we are working toward the time for Liberia to be declared Ebola free, I think it is about this same time that we focus not only on the opportunity created by the Ebola outbreak to improve and expand health facilities for effective delivery but to start putting our brains together to ponder about the lesson we did not learn from the past disasters occurrences outside the scope of the Ministry of Health.
1) Arguably, the lesson that should have learned from the past has to do with our failure to enact into law the recommendations that emanated from the joint capacity assessment by the UNDP and the Bureau of Crisis Prevention and Recovery in 2009 calling for a draft national disaster risk management policy and an effective institutional structure and establishment of the autonomy of the National Disaster Relief Commission to function as National Disaster Management Agency (NDMA). The Disaster Management Policy drafted since 2012 has not been passed into law.
It might interests to know that the NDRC was created by Executive Order to operate under the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) in 1976 following the Lynch Street flood disaster under the William R. Tolbert regime to carter to victims of disaster, review regularly different prevention, preparedness, planning and relief. Since then, its functions remained in obscurity due to major challenges such as human and financial capacities that could have been effectively handle had we enacted into law the 2009 recommendations.
In my candid opinion, because we as a people have not learned the lesson from the past that could have helped us to be proactive, it is the reason why the current Ebola outbreak so soon overwhelmed our capacity as evidenced by the spread from Foya to Monrovia and other parts of the Liberia.
It might interests you to know that Liberia was among the 168 countries that adopted the Hyogo Framework for Action in 2005 January in Japan, a ten years goal to substantially reduce disaster losses by building the resilience of nations and communities to disasters subsequently sanctioned by the UN General Assembly Resolution A/RES/60/195 that tasked the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction for Implementation. Liberia is also parties to the Africa Regional Strategy for Disaster Risk Reduction endorsed July 2004 by the African Union Assembly and ECOWAS Policy for Disaster Risk Reduction sanctioned in 2006.
All of these complementary frameworks for disaster management mandates national government to demonstrate the political will to be proactive by developing Policy, legislative and Institutional frameworks for disaster risk reduction that are able to develop and track progress.
Substantial numbers of countries have demonstrated the political will by implementing these frameworks by building a culture of resilience and safety. Notably, Nigeria just declared Ebola free on 20 October 2014 by the World Health Organization (WHO) has a National Platform for Disaster Management that navigated the focus of National Emergency management Agency (NEMA), at the local level is the State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) that coordinated with the Ministry of Health and other relevant partners and a national platform for disaster management that effectively navigated the focus of the government to effectively help Nigeria to combat and contained the virus in densely populated Lagos State.
2) Senegal just like Liberia is vulnerable to flooding, drought, land degradation, rising sea and locust infection has long since made disaster preparedness a national priority as evidenced by the Senegalese Civil Protection Agency (SCPA) placing disaster risk management and preparedness at the forefront of its fight against both natural and man-made disaster. No wander Senegal effective and successfully managed to contain the one case from spreading.
Similarly, Ghana has a National Disaster Management Organization (NADMO) guided by the national policy for disaster risk reduction coordinated with the Ministry of Health and other relevant partners that massively engage in nationwide Ebola prevention awareness or sensitization.
As far as early warning is concerned as it relates to disaster reduction or prevention, substantial reduction can influence success as in the case of Ghana when people are well informed and motivated toward a culture of disaster prevention and resilience, which in return require the collection, compilation and dissemination of relevant knowledge and information on hazards, vulnerabilities and capacities.
Unfortunately, Liberia’s progress toward all of the frameworks for disaster risk reduction has been impeded due to the lack of political will as evidenced by the 2012 draft National Disaster management Policy and autonomy of National Disaster Management Agency yet to be legislated.
The cases of Nigeria and Ghana suggest the lesson we did not learn despite early warning from flood, windstorm, pest invasion etc. before Ebola
In other words, had we as a country respected and enacted into law the 2009 recommendations, we would have had an autonomous agency (NADMO) as in the case of Ghana that seriously gave credence to early warnings of Ebola outbreak by being proactive instead of a National Task Force whose credential and practical experience arguably aloof from disaster management. Liberia early warning of the outbreak came from neighboring Guinea before entering in Foya, Lofa County.
In my candid opinion, it might interests you to know that the main reason for us not learning the lesson from the past arguably has to do with the fact that Liberia is not considered as high risk disaster but prone to disaster judging from the time interval of disasters does not negate the fact of occurrence regardless of the time intervals. As we long as we exist as a nation, we must prepare for the inevitable.
3) To the thoughtful reader, may I impress on your mind that people’s rights to life, education, health or survival can unequivocally be affected by the occurrence of disaster as in the case of Ebola as such, any country that has failed to utilize its political will intended to strengthen and build national and local capacity or resilience to prepare and respond to emergency has compromised the protection of these fundamental rights guarantee by all Constitutions.
To conclude this article, let it be borne in mind that using the Ebola outbreak as another opportunity to improve and expand health facilities which of course deserve a resounding yes, it would however be in-exhaustive in absence of a National Disaster Management Policy and National Disaster Management Agency on grounds that the next disaster could be outside the scope of the Ministry of Health.
Therefore, this article makes a passionate appeal or recommendation to the National Legislature as part of its pivotal role toward the achievement of the Millennium Development Goal and having the power and duty to lead the way in protecting development gains from disasters to prioritize the recommendation that emanated from the 2009 capacity assessment by the UNDP and Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recovery as a major action of what next after the deadly Ebola outbreak in Liberia.
About the Author
Mr. Ambrues M. Nebo holds MSc in the top 5% of the graduating Class in Peace and Conflict studies with specialty in Humanitarian and Refugee Studies form University of Ibadan, Nigeria,Post Graduate Certificate with distinction in Public Administration from Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration Ghana, BA Hon (Magna Cum Laude) in Sociology from African Methodist Episcopal Zion University College in Liberia and various International Certificates in various courses in peacekeeping operation form Kofi Anna International Peacekeeping Training Centre in Ghana.