Understanding disaster risk management and mitigation

October 27-November 2, 2015 is Disaster Awareness Week in Rwanda, which is running under the theme: “Promote Indigenous and Local Knowledge for Disaster Risk Management”

 Ignatius Mugabo
John Bugunya

October 27-November 2, 2015 is Disaster Awareness Week in Rwanda, which is running under the theme: “Promote Indigenous and Local Knowledge for Disaster Risk Management”

This is Rwanda’s follow up on International Day for Disaster Reduction, themed this year: ‘Knowledge for Life’ that falls annually on13th October.

Disaster risk management or reduction is a strategic planning and procedure that is administered or employed to protect critical infrastructures, aka critical assets, from severe damages when natural or human made calamities and catastrophic event occur.

In the United States for example, Executive Order 13407 was established as policy for the country to have an effective, reliable, integrated, flexible, and comprehensive system to alert and warn the general public, which is called “Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS).

In Europe, they started to develop a strategic National Disaster Risk Management after so many natural catastrophes happened in the year of 2010. According to European Academy, there were 725 extreme weather phenomena causing billions of Euro damage and thousands of people’s life in 2010.

Disaster management plans are multi-layered and are aimed to address such issues as floods, hurricanes, fires, bombings, and even mass failures of utilities or the rapid spread of disease.

The disaster plan is likely to address such as important matters as evacuating people from affected region, arranging temporary housing, food, and medical care or any other emergency needs of victims.

No country in the world can claim immunity from disasters, though vulnerability varies. Globally disasters are categorised in four main types:

Natural disasters:

These disasters include floods, hurricanes, earthquakes and volcano eruptions that can have immediate impacts on human health, as well as secondary impacts causing further death and suffering from floods causing landslides, earthquakes resulting in fires, tsunamis causing widespread flooding and typhoons sinking water vessels.

Environmental emergencies:

These emergencies include technological or industrial accidents, usually involving hazardous material, and occur where these materials are produced, used or transported. Large forest fires are generally included in this definition because they tend to be caused by humans.

Complex emergencies:

These emergencies involve a break-down of authority, looting and attacks on strategic installations. Complex emergencies include conflict situations and war.

Pandemic emergencies:

These emergencies involve a sudden onset of a contagious disease that affects health but also disrupts services and businesses, bringing economic and social costs.

In Rwanda, we have not been spared of nature’s wrath or man-made disasters including fire outbreaks, droughts, landslides, floods, earthquakes and windstorms.

That is why the Government of Rwanda has put much more effort and investment than ever before in disaster awareness and risk management, beginning with the establishment of a full-fledged Ministry of Disaster Management and Refugee Affairs (MIDIMAR) in 2009-10.

This year (September 10, 2015) government published The National Risk Atlas, the first ever comprehensive disaster risk assessment exercise done in Rwanda. The Atlas comprises of maps showing prone areas per five identified hazards- droughts, landslides, floods, earthquakes and windstorms, at national and District level.

It also highlights the elements at risks and how vulnerable they are, ending with recommendations on mitigation measures that people and institutions can undertake to protect themselves.

However, all steps taken, rules and regulations, efforts and investment by the government will come to nothing if people and institutions do not play their part. First by following and respecting them, and second, by investing in protection and mitigation measures.

Insurance cover is one of and a very important risk mitigation measures, where people are provided an opportunity to transfer their risks to the insurance companies with the promise of being reinstated to the original financial position in case of any eventuality caused by the covered risks.

People tend to be uninformed about the risks and available options to mitigate them.

In the recent past, the country has experienced many cases of fire outbreaks some resulting into huge financial loses, business interruptions and emotional turmoil. In 2014 alone over 130 fire cases were reported affecting both residential homes and commercial property.

There is also misconception that the cost of property insurance is very high. Some think that it’s as high as the value of the property itself. Unfortunately, the local market has not been properly educated on the risks, costs and benefits of home and commercial property covers.

Surprisingly the cost of insuring personal homes can be as little as RWF 1,000 per month which is basically the price of a cup of coffee. For commercial property, the cost can be as little as RWF 3,000 per month.

Property insurance has several packages to provide one with peace of mind in case of any unexpected event.

They include home property and commercial insurance to protect residential homes or commercial property, personal valuables in the house and stocks in case of businesses.

Property protection covers risks from minor hiccup to major financial losses. It protects your home’s physical assets against damage or loss due to fire, explosion, earthquakes, storm damage, internal water damage, car damages, airplane damages, glass/window damages, liability to neighbours properties and damage through vandalism.

In case of unexpected event due to these risks the insurance company will compensate the insured partially or 100% of the loss depending on the severity thus returning one to the original financial position. Besides financial restoration, insurance protection provides other intangible values such as peace of mind.

Once you are insured, you can enjoy the use of your personal property and running of your business. Insurance is assurance.

Ignatius Mugabo is a fire safety management consultant and Managing Director of Mugolds International Ltd.

John Bugunya is the Chief Executive of Prime Insurance Company.


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