ENVIRONMENT: Lessons learnt from the North African disasters

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By Ishmael Dumbuya

Across the North African region lately, droughts, earthquakes, water scarcity, and heat waves continue to hamper development efforts and adversely impact livelihoods and economies. Weather extremes, such as torrential rains and floods, affect tens of thousands each year, with many events occurring in contexts of fragility arising from conflict. Disaster recovery efforts have been underway in such countries, presenting more complex challenges and a need for coordinated efforts among additional development partners. Disaster risk reduction in urban areas remains a priority in this heavily urbanized region where many cities are significantly exposed to natural hazards.

Disasters are increasing worldwide, especially in North Africa, bringing about catastrophic impacts that make it difficult for countries to achieve their development goals while safeguarding the well-being of their citizens and meeting their basic needs. Increasingly, systemic and unknown risks lead to such impacts.

According to global statistics, while the number of disasters around the world doubles in number, the average number of disasters related to natural hazards in the region is increasingly doubling. In the Middle East region and in Northern Africa, the increased exposure and vulnerability to natural hazards, in addition to accelerated urban growth, water scarcities, and climate change, collectively act as serious challenges to policies, planning, and development. 

The lessons learnt in North Africa lately, will serve as a springboard for other countries to adopt and eventually prevent future disasters in their countries.

Firstly, state institutions and administrations must understand the risks of disasters, by so doing; they can be able to mitigate the level of disaster outbreaks.

The ability to strengthen disaster risk governance to manage disaster also plays a significant role in preventing or minimizing the occurrences of disasters.

Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) should also be adopted. This strategy is considered a roadmap for obtaining a shared understanding of prevailing disaster risks and assessing the current DRR system and its capacity for achieving DRR objectives. These objectives are determined by the National Centre for Security, Management and Crises (NCSMC), as the holder of authority to coordinate national efforts in this area, with the support of national consultations of all relevant national institutions and entities. State authorities should enhance disaster preparedness for effective response and to “Build Back Better” in recovery, rehabilitation and reconstruction.

Another lesson learnt is the slow pace at which authorities respond to disaster issues. For instance, the aftershocks of the earthquake that hit Morocco, the rescue and recovery operations continued at a low pace, a source of frustration and anger for many Moroccans who say the government is not doing enough.

Heavy rainfall and flooding from a Mediterranean storm washed away entire towns and communities in Libya in the city of Derna, the area was declared a disaster zone after two nearby dams collapsed, wiping out about a quarter of the city.

According to Dax Roque, Libya’ country director for the Norwegian Refugee Council, his team provided lifesaving aid, including food and shelter, but the affected areas are hard to reach.

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