Unprepared and Unmatched: Kenya’s Crisis Preparation Story
On the 3rd of January 2018, two people died in Nairobi’s Pipeline area while trying to demolish a semi-permanent structure that caved in on them, leaving several others injured. Official reports by the police indicated that the owner of the structure had given the tenants notice to vacate the premise. His intent was to pup a new structure before the unfortunate incident occurred.
In 2011, more than ninety people in the sprawling Sinai area in Nairobi were left dead while scores suffered extreme burn injuries when an oil leak from a local Kenya Pipeline Company Depot led to a raging fire that lasted for days, razing houses and taking lives. Here is the catch. There is a law that provides for the segregation of residential areas in Kenya from Industrial sites due to potential dangers. It is also interesting to note that such Industrial zones are encroached by human settlements due to the mushrooming population in the quickly growing urban population where affordable housing is in demand but in short supply.
These are just some of the numerous narratives that continue to test our preparedness when it comes to disasters. It might as well be an orchestra of disasters which occur due to human error, negligence or sheer recklessness. Sometimes it may seem that our nature is to forgo safety just to ensure we earn a living and survive. This might explain why people live in areas so cramped that a fire can raze hundreds of houses in minutes, with no running water to put out the fire, no roads for fire engines to access the areas and people living in highly dangerous environments. It’s easy to blame human error, bad governance and dysfunctional systems but the real question would be: ‘’Are we prepared for disaster?”
Sadly, we are not.
The Architectural Association of Kenya estimates that 65 percent of buildings in Nairobi are ticking time bombs. Death traps for unsuspecting tenants. Yet we act surprised when another building collapses, when more lives are lost, and more people injured. The story of substandard building materials, poor workmanship and corrupt officials do not give us much hope that future disasters might be averted through the elimination of such barriers.
A 2010 report by the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies says that 1.8 million dollars was spent on disaster management ventures across the five East African Countries. This paint a grisly picture of lack of sound policies by East African Countries and execution mechanisms to deal with disasters. The rescuers are often compelled to grapple with lack of thermal imaging and sound equipment to find trapped people during incidents such as cave-ins, bombings, fires and major accidents which obviously make the rescue process deathly slow and ineffective.
In one case in 2011, Tanzania sought help from South Africa to retrieve missing bodies during an incident where a ferry capsized. The cause? Probable overloading of the boat. More than 200 people lost their lives as crucial time was wasted without the right equipment, qualified personnel and know how when it came to the rescue mission.
In an era where highly flammable materials are transported by road, construction companies cutting costs to complete projects on time and at minimal cost, companies ignoring safety standards for workers while safety drills are ignored; it is unlikely that we are prepared for danger that might occur due to lack of policies or poor implementation of the policies in place to manage disasters.
However, there is hope for the future of disaster management. The Republic of Rwanda for instance can be applauded for putting up a well established early warning mechanism, mapping out vulnerability in disaster prone areas, increasing skill sets in disaster prevention and a establishing a well managed response plan.
With a likely future of more disasters to come, shouldn’t we follow suit? Maybe it won’t hurt a bit to ask the Rwandan government for notes. Would it?
Crisis management is no longer for those assigned to the task. Past experiences have shown that seemingly unaffected people and departments are also roped in to face the challenges of a disaster. It strikes when you least expect it and exacerbates when dangers and vulnerabilities are not identified or assessed and handled in a timely manner.
How do you manage a crisis then? The best way is to prepare for it! Your crisis management efforts should be directed towards helping your organization recover and to ensure continuity. You will be equipped with the knowledge and skills to develop and implement a rigorous and comprehensive crisis management system which will help your organization prepare for a crisis and in the process, prevent one from happening.
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