OCTOBER 1, 2014 By Mohamed Massaquoi and Alusine Sesay
Director of Disaster Management Department (DMD) within the Office of National Security (ONS) has told Concord Times in an exclusive interview that Ebola was not in their national disaster contingency plan since they had not foreseen the deadly outbreak.
Madam Mary Mye Kamara said her organization is responsible for coordinating all national emergencies, whether natural or man-made, noting that DMD came into existence through an Act of Parliament in 2002 as one of the results of the government of Sierra Leone’s post-conflict reconstruction mechanisms.
The DMD is government’s primary coordinator for emergencies and disasters such as natural and man-made as entrenched in the National Security Central Intelligence Act of 2002, she said, adding that the department is actively engaged in ensuring the mainstreaming of disaster management and has been discovered that achieving mainstreaming disaster response management is a step in the right direction for the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
“In view of this, the DMD was moved from disaster response management to disaster risk reduction as a follow up action in implementing the five pillars of the Hyogo framework adopted in January, 2005 in Kobe, Japan. A mechanism that is viable and proactive, making disaster risk reduction a priority due to its cost,” explained Madam Kamara. “This department has a record of all disease outbreaks based on experience and geographical environment but Ebola was never among the recorded diseases in the national contingency plan since it was new to the country and the entire West African sub-region. We do have a national contingency plan but we were not certain about Ebola, and even the health practitioners were not certain. Nobody thought about Ebola and it was never in our national contingency plan.”
Being responsible for coordinating all national emergencies, Madam Kamara said they look at the disaster management circle including prevention, mitigation, preparedness and response, and that they try to do all they could to forestall disaster from befalling the country.
“As a coordinating unit, we put together resources from all stakeholders. We did hear about it [Ebola] but not certain, and even the Guineans were not certain. We had to support the Ministry of Health since it is a health related disaster and it was natural for them to take the lead in the fight. Based on the structure we have here we could only ascertain what we got from the Ministry of Health and Sanitation,” she said.
Disaster Management Fund
While launching the Disaster Management Fund at the Miatta conference centre over two years ago, President Ernest Bai Koroma said a major global challenge today in the world is managing disasters, which are becoming increasingly common.
He said before this period, Sierra Leone was actually not named among countries that are at-risk to, particularly, natural and human-induced (man-made) disasters. However, there has been a sharp drift from that initial global assessment, he said, adding that only recently records have shown a sharp upsurge in the trend of disaster related incidents in terms of frequency, magnitude and severity.
But Kamara said there are lessons to learn especially when working with all other stakeholders in the disaster management platform.
She is concerned that government must be available to respond to disaster issues in the country by putting the appropriate resources together, and complained that government has not given subvention to her department since the Disaster Management Fund was launched by the president.
She said government should primarily ensure that all resources are well coordinated as a strategy to foresee emergencies before time, adding that there is a clear difference between the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) and DMD.
ONS raised the red flag
Though Madam Kamara could not actually tell about what transpired between the top management of the Office of National Security and President Koroma on the initial outbreak of the Ebola virus, she opined that the ONS wrote an assessment of the Ebola epidemic to the president. However, she maintained that certain issues of national security are not discussed in public.
She further noted that the head of the ONS is the Secretary to the National Security Council and may have informed the president on the said disaster.
The DMD only coordinates issues of disaster and supports institutions that directly deal with such situation, she said.
“For the Ebola virus it is the sole duty of the Ministry of Health and Sanitation to deal with, this is because it falls within their jurisdiction. As far as our mandate is concern, it is to support the ministry while we do general coordination,” she said.