GLADYS BURINI

By GLADYS BURINI
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If Kenya were to be hit by a major disaster, say an earthquake of a magnitude of 6.2 or a cyclone, the number of casualties would be shockingly high.

We are tragically incompetent when it comes to disaster response and management.

The latest Likoni ferry accident, in which a car sank with a mother and a child, is one example. If a drowning mother and child cannot be rescued, what chance do hundreds or thousands stand in the face of a major disaster?

We are lucky that we are not a disaster-prone country, but that is hardly an excuse for this level of incompetence. On the contrary, we should be more risk-averse.

Floods occur frequently during rainy seasons, roads get cut off, cars are swept away, yet our response in this area still remains dreadful.

But the January terrorist attack at DusitD2 Hotel in Nairobi proved that we are indeed capable of responding to disasters promptly, with minimal lives lost.

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And yet here we were, for 11 days, overwhelmed and struggling to recover the car that sank at the Likoni channel.

I would like to be less harsh about the response at Likoni, taking into consideration that a major disaster is a better indicator of a country’s disaster management. Except that this was an accident with fewer demands for a response.

God forbid, but had that been the ferry requiring major rescue operations, would the response have been just as slow and ineffective? I am afraid so.

It is hardly surprising that the response was so lacklustre, considering the lack of the general public’s awareness on disaster preparedness and response.

We have no control over disasters, but we certainly can — and must — respond effectively. The Disaster Management Act established the National Disaster Management Authority, and now is the time to expedite the running of this authority for the country to have a seamless, co-ordinated disaster management.

Even with this authority, each county still should have its own disaster management body.

It is no longer a matter for debate whether it is the county governments or national government that should take the lead in responding to disasters in the regions. Intervene immediately or lives will be lost.

We also need to be prepared to respond holistically. What if evacuation or excavation is required as it did in the Solai dam tragedy in Nakuru?

Do we have the required equipment or do we glean to other countries for a helping hand? Are our hospitals equipped to handle casualties and counselling centres for trauma healing?

Will families be offered housing and financial assistance as they get back on their feet? As we mark the International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction tomorrow, let’s aim to respond to disaster swiftly, effectively and holistically.

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