EDITORIAL: Fresh bid to avert disasters needs broad support

A torrent of rain on Thursday swept away and killed an eight-year old child in Nyamirambo, a city suburb, a chilling reminder that natural disasters are always lurking around the corner.

A torrent of rain on Thursday swept away and killed an eight-year old child in Nyamirambo, a city suburb, a chilling reminder that natural disasters are always lurking around the corner.

Deadly rains are not a rare occurrence in Kigali, especially in areas where residents dangerously live on the sharp edges of bare, fragile cliffs.

It is unfortunate that, years after the government appealed to high risk zone dwellers to relocate to safer areas to prevent possible loss of life, many residents in areas that are highly prone to floods, remain adamant.

This issue has remained something of an enigma. The residents in question say government must meet the cost of their relocation, including getting them new homes, while the latter maintains it will only give support to the most vulnerable, since they built in such risky areas as wetlands and on cliffs with full knowledge of the deadly consequences.

With the increasingly unpredictable weather patterns that have resulted in violent rains in the country in the recent past, it’s critical that government works more closely with its partners to sort out the issue of high risk zone dwellers, and ensure proper habitation across the country in the future.

Last week, the Minister for Disaster Preparedness and Refugee Affairs announced that on November 7, the government will launch a weeklong campaign to raise public awareness about such disasters as floods and fire outbreaks, and how best they can be averted. This is an important drive that needs to be supported by all. No one knows when the next disaster will strike but everyone can play a part in preventing or minimising its impact.

National figures paint a bleak picture. Disasters claimed 76 lives between January and October, while 125 people were seriously injured. Also, 1,725 houses were destroyed during the same period, while as many as 326 fires have been registered across the country since 2011 – 61 per cent of them due to short circuit.

The battle to mitigate disasters should not be left to government alone. Civil society organisations, religious leaders, the private sector, development partners and the general public should all partake in these precautionary efforts, including helping to find a lasting solution to the problem of people living in high risk disaster zones.

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