UNILORIN don seeks laws to reduce society’s vulnerability to disasters

A  Professor of Public Health at the University of Ilorin, Gordon Kayode Osagbemi has called on governments at all levels in the country to enact laws, rules and regulations that govern human activities in the environment, saying that this could reduce the society’s vulnerability to disasters.

Professor Osagbemi, who made the call while delivering the 182nd inaugural lecture of the university identified the main disaster types in the country as floods, droughts, oil spills, bush fires, massive road traffic accidents, plane crashes, boat mishaps, ethno-religious clashes, explosions and wars.

In the lecture entitled ‘Disasters and Public Health Emergencies-Proper Prior Preparations Prevent Poor Performance’, Osagbemi cautioned that the laws, when made, may not have effects unless they are enforced with some forms of penalty put in place as deterrent to defaulters.

He noted that people tend to abide by laws when it is known that penalties, including deprivation of certain privileges, are there to deal with those who breach them.

A consultant public health physician to the University of Ilorin Teaching Hospital (UITH), Professor Osagbemi said that laws relating to building codes, standardisation of products, public health, registration of foods, drugs, beverages, travel guidelines, vehicle maintenance and weapons are enacted to reduce the vulnerability to disasters”, adding that there is usually the need for external intervention measures, because the impacts of the disaster overwhelm the ability of the affected persons to cope.

“When countries, regions, localities, communities, families or individuals are affected by disasters, they require international, national and other stakeholders from elsewhere to assist in order to stop the progression, reduce the impacts or prevent the recurrence of the disaster,” he noted.

Professor Osagbemi identified old people, women and adolescent girls, those with low socio-economic backgrounds, people living in hard-to-reach disaster zones, humanitarian and aid personnel, urban slum dwellers, people who are ignorant and lack information, ecological manipulation zone dwellers and people living in borderland communities as the most vulnerable groups to the effects of disasters.

To mitigate disasters, he said there must be social mobilisation to create awareness and sensitise the various communities to disasters and their effects.

The don said that Nigeria is a disaster-prone country due to some factors such as high population, topography ranging from lowland along the coasts of rivers Niger and Benue valleys to high plateaus in the middle belt and near deserts of north and mountains on the eastern borders, a relatively weak economy, under-protected and expansive landmass, as well as unmanned land borders apart from the creeks and inland water ways.

Professor Osagbemi urged the Federal Government to focus on the establishment of the Emergency Preparedness and Response (EPR) committee to ensure that the vulnerability to and impact of disasters are reduced in the country.

He also said that government at all levels must provide relevant capacity building designed to ensure local ability to manage disasters in the country, which will include training of disaster management personnel, community volunteers, members of local non- governmental organizations and others who are important in disasters.

He advised that adequate documentation of the entire disaster management process for a particular occurrence is important for subsequent evaluation, planning for the future and mitigation measures.