Traditional emergency management/civil defence thinking makes two misleading assumptions about communities. First, it sees other forms of social organisation (voluntary and community-based organisations, informal social groupings and families) as irrelevant to emergency action. Spontaneous actions by affected communities or groups (e.g., search and rescue) are viewed as irrelevant or disruptive, because they are not controlled by the authorities. The second assumption is that disasters produce passive ‘victims’ who are overwhelmed by crisis or dysfunctional behaviour (panic, looting, self-seeking activities). They therefore need to be told what to do, and their behaviour must be controlled — in extreme cases, through the imposition of martial law.

Communities in Nigeria are at the core of Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR), and community-based approaches are getting increasing focus in both national and state level DRR plans with support of both National and State emergency management agencies (NEMA & SEMA). In the case of past disasters in Nigeria, communities were always the first responders, and they took leading roles in the post disaster recovery. The roles of communities in pre-disaster preparedness are also very important.

Nigeria and the HFA

Nigeria has developed good institutional and legal frameworks in accordance to the Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA); however lack of earmarked resources and weak enforcement of regulations are still a challenge at national level, and are chronic at local government level.[1] These issues are especially true for DRR at State level, where the focus of State Emergency Management Authorities (SEMA’s) is primarily on emergency preparedness and response, and for emergency management authorities at LGA and ward level, which seldom exist.[2]

Nigeria is especially vulnerable to extreme weather events, such as floods, storms, droughts, and desertification, phenomena aggravated by population growth, urbanization, social marginalization and conflict. In the North East, the insurgency has complex historical roots, which include acute economic underdevelopment, marginalization, and lack of access to resources in the Lake Chad Basin, which are amplified by the action of climate change and desertification, poor governance, and weak rule of law.[3]

Climate Change and Conflict

 Both climate change and conflict accrued existing risks and vulnerabilities, particularly affecting those relying on farming, livestock, and forestry products, with population displacement and environmental degradation acting as a self-sustaining causality loop.

The conflict in the North East caused the destruction of infrastructures (bridges, poles, repeaters), public and commercial buildings as well as private houses and farmland. The total damage to infrastructures and social services in the affected states was estimated at $9.2 billion; of the estimated $6.9 billion damage in Borno state, $2.37 billion arise from reduced access and asset destruction in the agriculture sector, and $3.18 billion from the damage and destruction of private housing.[4] Besides the physical damage to buildings and infrastructure, insecurity is also disrupting the functioning of markets and preventing access to farmland, resulting in loss of livelihoods and increasing competition over resources between IDPs, host communities, and returnees.[5]

The damage and insecurity caused by the hostilities and the consequent population displacement had a cascading effect on the whole population in the North East, exacerbating underlying vulnerabilities that existed prior to the conflict: high unemployment rates, low literacy, and a 77% relative poverty rate: 69% of the population was living with less than 1 dollar per day. Economically inactive households in the North East rose to 59% in rural LGAs, with up to 76% of households unable to meet basic needs such as food, transportation, medical and energy. The main coping strategies include child labour, begging, debt contraction, and sale of assets.[6]

Proposed interventions to build resilient communities

In order to build resilience to stress in Borno, it is essential to reduce the impact of the increased displaced population on the urban infrastructure. This must be accompanied by a paradigm shift in local authorities from an exclusive focus on centralized emergency preparedness and response to a local, community-based disaster risk reduction and early warning system.Increasing state and local government authorities’ capacity to address the increased disaster risks will reduce both public health and flooding risks arising from the accrued urban population and reduce its occurrence in the future.

The following activities are suggested as a way to mitigate the impact of population displacement and reduce the vulnerability of Maiduguri populations, IDPs and host communities alike:

  1. Creation of a Community-based Early Warning System (CEWS);
  2. Development of Community-based Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) initiatives;
  3. Livelihoods stabilization and economic recovery;
  4. Local and State Government Capacity Development.

The activities will bring several benefits, such as the creation of a robust early warning mechanism and a more inclusive and participatory governance, that go above and beyond public health risk reduction, but support more resilient communities and their capacity to mitigate and adapt in the face of present and future challenges.

The activities identified address the Sendai’s Framework’s Four Priorities for Action, notably Priority 2 – Strengthening disaster risk governance to manage disaster risk, and Priority 3 – Investing in disaster risk reduction for resilience, and work towards the achievement of Sendai’s Global Goal e) Substantially increase the number of countries with national and local disaster risk reduction strategies by 2020 and Global Goal g) Substantially increase the availability of and access to multi-hazard early warning systems and disaster risk information and assessments to the people by 2030.

Author: Charles von Huff is a Co-Managing Director at impactfulAID, specializing Disaster Risk Reduction and Human and Institutional Development.

Image: UNDP Nigeria

[1]National progress Report on the implementation of the Hyogo Framework for Action (2013 -2015) – Interim

[2] National Capacity Assessment Report – Federal Republic of Nigeria, 2012.

[3]Reaching the most vulnerable?  The Protection Crisis in the Lake Chad Basin, May 2016

[4]Reconstruction and Peace Building Assessment, May 2016.

[5]UNDP, Livelihoods and Economic Recovery Assessment – North East Nigeria, April 2016

[6]UNDP, Livelihoods and Economic Recovery Assessment – North East Nigeria, April 2016