IS GHANA PREPARED FOR DISASTERS
The number of lives taken by disasters recently has been very alarming, and therefore has been of great concern to governments the world over; and especially Inter-Governmental Organizations (IGOs) and International, national and local Non-Governmental Organizations (INGOs and NGOs) alike.
According to the World Disaster Report 2010 and the UN News Centre, natural disasters claimed an estimated more than 296,800 lives the world over, and left more than 1 million people homeless, in 2010 only. Although natural disasters cannot be prevented, most of these deaths, injuries and property losses could have been prevented if proper preparedness measures were in place. For instance, the earthquake in Haiti took an estimated 230,000 lives, while an earthquake with a similar magnitude in Japan claimed roughly 28, 050 lives; and another one in Chile with a higher magnitude killed an estimated 500 people only. This difference, I believe, was due to the emergency preparedness plans in place, which included better building design and improved quality of construction.
Nobody expected earthquake to strike Haiti at the time it did, and nobody expects one to strike Ghana now. The penultimate earthquake in Haiti was in about years ago- and I don’t know the last time an earthquake struck Ghana, but many of our mothers and fathers born before birth and death registration started in Ghana have been using a time one struck to determine when they were born. Meaning, like Haiti, we can experience another one at any time.
One disaster that has been striking Ghana, almost every year is flood, normally caused by heavy rain falls. Rain falls are predictable and therefore deaths and property losses can be mitigated. But, up until now, I do not think Ghana has braced itself for another flood, let alone, an earthquake. It is my desire to get sponsorship, recruit people and train them and partner with the National Disaster Manangemant Organisation of Ghana to educate the general public on disasters and the importance of disaster management.
The following defines disaster and the steps to consider in their management:
What Is A Disaster?
A disaster is the results of a vast ecological breakdown in the relation between humans and their environment, a serious and sudden event on such a scale that the stricken community needs extraordinary efforts to cope with it, often with outside help or interventional aid.
The causes of disasters could be natural (e.g. earthquake, floods, heat waves, etc.) or man-made (e.g. discharge of nuclear explosives underground).
The phases of disaster, also known as the disaster cycle, can be viewed as a continuous time sequence of five different phases: the non-disaster/ interdisaster phase, the predisaster/ warning phase, the impact phase, the emergency phase, and the rehabilitation phase. The effectiveness of how the last three phases are dealt with will depend largely on the preparedness measures taken at the first two phases.
Why Prepare for Disasters?
The Public Health Emergency Preparedness Progarmme (PHEP) is an effort to anticipate, detect, assess, and understand the health risks and impacts of an emergency. It is a continuous cycle of planning, organizing, training, equipping, exercising, evaluation, and improvement on activities.
Being prepared and understanding what to do can reduce fear, anxiety, harm and the losses that accompany disasters. It helps communities, families and individuals to know what to do in a disaster.
Guideline for Emergency Preparedness Planning
1. Evaluate the risk of a country or a particular region to disasters; and use the facts of what happened at the same or another area to assess the factors that influenced morbidity and mortality
The first thing to do in an emergency/ disaster preparedness planning is to evaluate the risk of the country or a particular region to all kinds of disasters. Hazard analysis must be carried out by governmental and/or private institutions and requires knowledge in such areas as seismology, volcanology, meteorology, structural engineering, and epidemiology. This will help the disaster management team to know all the disasters that can strike that region, and therefore prepare towards them.
It is also wise, after knowing the disaster(s) that the area is prone to, to study the facts from similar disaster(s) that struck the same or another country or area to find out the factors that influenced mortality and morbidity. This will aid a lot in the preparedness plan as it will let the disaster management team, and especially the health sector know what diseases to expect after a particular disaster, how people were killed and/ or injured, who are the most vulnerable groups and how they should be taken care of, what people should do to mitigate losses of lives and properties, and so on.
2. Adopt standards and regulations
Most disasters in especially poor countries have been found to occur as a result of poor quality construction and environmental degradation resulting from poor land use. Floods, for instance, in most Sub-Saharan African countries are attributable to building on water ways and poor sanitation and sewerage systems.
The second stage in the preparedness plan is to adopt standards and regulations that will ensure better building plans and use of land, among other things, to prevent floods and reduce losses in other disasters. These standards and regulations must include the development and enforcement of seismic codes, in an earthquake prone area (e.g. preventing people from building in high seismic areas, better building design and improved quality of construction, avoidance of deep well injections and filling of water impoundments, etc.); preventing people from building on water ways in flood risk areas; and so on.
3. Organize communication, information and warning system
Effective communication system is very important in disaster preparedness planning; and the media need to play a very important role here. It is essential that the disaster planning authorities and media practitioners share an understanding of objectives of information dissemination.
There must also be an effective communication network between the disaster management offices and staff in every region, and also between them (the disaster management team) and all relevant external organizations, both national and international.
Early prediction of disasters saves a lot of lives; and this has to be communicated to the public as quickly as possible either through the media- if there is time- or a public disaster alert system or both for people to evacuate or take other measures to prevent and/ or reduce losses of lives and injuries.
4. Ensure co-ordination and response mechanisms
If the health sector’s disaster preparedness plan is to be successful, clear mechanisms for coordinating activities with other sectors within the country and internationally must be in place.
There must be a Health Disaster Coordinator who will be in charge of the preparedness activities and coordinate plans with government agencies, including civil protection, armed forces, foreign relations divisions and NGOs and IGOs.
The Health Disaster Coordinator must also develop technical health programmes to respond to disasters. These must include: evacuation plan; treatment of casualties; identification of bodies; epidemiological surveillance and disease control; basic sanitation and sanity engineering; health management in shelters or temporary settlements; food and water supply; training of health personnel and the public, logistical resource and support; and simulation exercises.
5. Adopt measures to ensure that financial and other resources are available for increased readiness and can be mobilized in disaster situations
There is the need to make sure that all the financial needs and other resources needed to respond to emergencies are ready and in the right quantities. The health sector must have a budget for preparedness as well as disaster response activities. To be effective, the demographic information of the population must be taken, and together with the assessment of the factors influencing morbidity and mortality, be used to determine the health facilities and medicines that would be needed and the correct quantities.
Mechanisms should be in place to allow for quick mobilization of resources after a disaster, rather than using normal administrative procedures that are generally bureaucratic and time-consuming.
6. Develop public education programme
After identifying a country or a region to be disaster prone, the disaster management team needs to organize programmes to educate the people on the findings; its implications; and what to do should a disaster strike. This can be done through the media; and the disaster management staff can also visit schools, organizations and houses to inform and educate the people. The disaster education programmes can even be incorporated into school curricula.
The education programmes normally inform the people on what they should do and how they should behave during the impact phase of a disaster, the kits and food they should get at the pre-impact phase, and also how to protect important documents and store potable water.
7. Coordinate information sessions with news media
As I have said already, the media play a very important role in disaster management; and the disaster management team has to use them to communicate every activity they organize and every new finding through the news. There must be a good relationship between the media and the disaster management team at all times.
8. Organize disaster simulation exercises that test response mechanisms
Having a scenario based tests help people to learn how to carry out rescue and evacuation in the various scenarios and teach specific techniques and use of tools to facilitate the operations. The rescue training and tests prepare the people to be effective rescuers so that when it comes to the real thing they will know what to do. Rescue Equipment Proficiency Tests (REPT) are also conducted to make sure trained rescuers can handle their rescue equipment well.
Not only must the simulation exercises train and test rescuers and health staff, they must also include disaster drills to train and test companies, families and individuals on how to respond to disasters.
After every training and test or drill, the process must be evaluated to check if the actions and activities were done in the right ways. If not, improvement must be made for another training and the test must be conducted again. This is a cycle and must be repeated, at least, once a year even after mastering the scenario-based tests.
Disaster preparedness planning is the single most important thing that needs careful consideration in disaster management. Although natural disasters cannot be prevented, most of the massive losses of lives and properties could have been prevented if proper preparedness measures were put in place. The difference between the number of deaths and property damage in the earthquakes in Haiti (January 2010), Chile (February 2010) and Japan (March 2011) are concrete evidence to this fact.
It is, therefore, imperative that every country gets disaster management organizations that would research, inform and prepare its residence for disasters. This paper gives the steps to follow for disaster/ emergency preparedness planning.
From what I have seen so far, the world over, government officials prefer giving relief items to victims of disasters to chalk political points than spending money on activities that would mitigate- if not prevent- lives and property losses caused by disasters, and Ghana is not an exception.
Our country is already considered as a less developed one; and governments, since the time of independence have been striving to improve our economy and infrastructural development. But they lose sight of the fact that one serious disaster strike can take us far back, and would need more money, time and effort to recover than what would be spent on disaster management. And let’s not forget that lives that might be lost through these disasters can never be brought back.