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NEMA Agency's challenges of disaster management in rural communities

On a daily basis, the world is being hit by disaster as a result of human activities and climate change. Sunday Isuwa looks at the National Emergency Management Agency's (NEMA) possible ways of managing disaster in the rural communities.

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The National Emergency Management Agency is the Nigeria’s only agency saddled with the responsibilities of coordinating and managing disaster in the country.

Over the years, the agency seems to have gotten out from the orthodox way of managing disaster to the global best practices. But the agency seems to be currently being hit by some challenges especially managing disaster menace at the rural communities.

The 2012 flood that ravaged many communities in Nigeria, plane crashes, fire outbreak, sectarian crises and insurgency seems to have put the Nigeria disaster management below expectation.

NEMA was established through an Act 12 as amended by Act 50 of 1999, to manage disasters in Nigeria. The establishment of NEMA was aimed at improving the hitherto narrow practice of relief distribution to disaster management.

Disaster management in Nigeria dates back to 1906 when the Police Fire Brigade (now Federal Fire Services) was established to function beyond firefighting role to saving of lives, properties and provision of humanitarian services in emergencies.

Between 1972 and 1973 Nigeria was hit by a devastating drought which affected the socio- economy of the Nation and resulted to loss of lives and property worth millions of Naira.

This made it imperative for the government to consider a response body to take care of disaster issues because of its serious and adverse effects to the life of her citizens.

The establishment of National Emergency Relief Agency (NERA) by Decree 48 of 1976, which was conceived as an Inter-Ministerial Committee, charged with the task of collecting and distributing relief materials to disaster victims. This function of NERA with regards to Disaster Management was very limited because of the scope under which it operated.

In 1990, Nigeria along with other member countries of the United Nations set up a National Committee for the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction (IDNDR).

According to documents obtained from NEMA, the Nigerian Inter-Ministerial body set up four sub-committees, with NERA retained membership in each sub-committee, to address natural disasters reduction in Nigeria.

A working group was also inaugurated with a representative from NERA to work out a situation report on Natural Disaster reduction for the country for the remaining years in the decade. The report was said to have been submitted in May 1994 and after this submission, the committee ceased to exist.

“This brought back the task of drawing up a National Agenda on the issue of disaster management in all its ramifications. In 1993, the government, based on the objectives and goals of the IDNDR decided to expand the scope of managing disasters to include all the areas of disaster management,” the document states.

It was gathered that the mandate included prevention, mitigation, response and recovery. There have been various decrees which led to having a National body called NEMA to manage disaster.

NEMA is structured along: Search and Rescue, Policy and Strategy, Information, Education and Prevention, Administration, Finance and Logistics, Relief and Rehabilitation, Research and Planning.

The agency, according to experts, has succeeded in given the country a workable plan for disaster responds but feared that rural communities might suffer if serious disaster struck.

According to the enabling law; the Agency shall among the other things; Formulate policy on all activities relating to the disaster management in Nigeria and co-ordinate the plans and programmes for efficient and effect response to disasters at national level; Monitor the state of preparedness of all organization or agencies which may contribute to disaster management in Nigeria; Collate data from relevant agencies, so as to enhance forecasting, planning and field operation of disaster management; Educate and inform the public on disaster prevention and control measures; Co-ordinate and facilitate the provision of necessary resource for Search and Rescue  and  other forms of disaster curtailment  activities in response to distress calls.

Other mandate expected to be carryout by NEMA includes; coordinating the activities of all voluntary organizations engaged in emergency relief operations in any part of the Federation; Receive financial and technical aid from international organization and non-governmental agencies, for the purpose of disaster management in Nigeria; Collect emergency relief supply from Local and foreign source and from

International and non-Governmental Agencies; Distribute emergency relief material to victims  of natural  or other disasters and assist in the rehabilitation of the victims, where necessary; Liaise with State Emergency Management Committees, to assess and monitor, where necessary, the distribution of relief materials to disaster victims; Process relief assistance to such countries as may be determined from time to time; Liaise with the United Nations Disaster Reduction Organizations such other International bodies for the reduction of natural and other disasters.

Some of us are satisfied with the way and manner the agency is operating. They have zonal offices, some states also have offices and if you look at their formations in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), they are all superb. But I fear for the rural communities if a disaster of high magnitude happened,” said Bala Sani.

Sani, a disaster expert said many of the high ways in Nigeria are supposed to be provided with emergency equipment position in strategic location as NEMA did in Abuja.

“All over the world, the issue of disaster management is taken seriously. The changing climate and frequent conflict is making it mandatory for every government to invest in disaster management,” Sani added while urging the Federal government to invest in disaster management.

NEMA always called for Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) in strategic locations and carryout simulation exercises but lack equipment to face practical emergencies, it was gathered.

Let me tell, previous government have done well when it comes to providing equipment for disaster management but they are still not enough. Their equipment seems to have been piled up in Abuja. The zonal offices and the state offices are merely wire houses,” Jonathan Ozioma said.

Ozioma, a disaster management volunteer said Nigeria need to start thinking like the develop world when it comes to emergency response adding that the incumbent NEMA DG, Mohammed Sani Sidi has done well and need more support from Nigerians.

He said the minimum response time for emergency in develop world is five minutes adding that in Nigeria victims of disaster in rural areas spent days without respond teams.

In most cases, it’s only the locals that help themselves. We need to change from this. There is nothing wrong for all NEMA offices to have rescue helicopters.  The State Emergency Management Agencies (SEMA) also needs to be well equipped,” Ozioma advised.

Even though the agency’s management will not want to speak on their capacity to manage disaster in rural areas, consultants see funding as the major challenge hampering disaster management in Nigeria.

The agency is doing well when you compare the meager amount given to them. Disaster equipment are very expensive and before you get such equipment in every of the 774 local governments in Nigeria, you definitely knows the huge amount to spend,” a consultant said.

Another disaster consultant said for Nigeria to get to the stage of managing disaster at all level, the country must be ready to dedicate a substantial amount in an annual budget to acquire such equipment.

Most of these disasters start from the rural areas like fire outbreak, plane crashes, epidemics and other emergencies. Most of all these issues raised take place in the rural communities and we must device means of tackling such scourge if we must grow as a nation,” he said

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