Disaster struck several districts on Sunday. The afternoon heavy rains destroyed several homes in Rubavu, Kirehe and Ngoma districts in Rwanda’s Eastern Province.
Resulting in a major humanitarian crisis; close to 2500 houses were destroyed in the three districts living hundreds of residents homeless.
While discussing the catastrophe with my colleague I share a desk with,, he remarks: “If the mere leaking of a roof can make one uncomfortable -- then what amount of discomfort does one experience to not having a roof at all over one’s head?”
I was empty of words -- simply shacking my head. This is the second disaster of great magnitude to strike parts of the country; the first one having been the February earthquake that hit the western districts of Rusizi and Nyamasekye.
Despite the suffering it brings, we should however, derive lessons from such disasters, and put in place mitigating measures should they strike again.
We should learn to be prepared for disasters of this scale and the manner in which we respond, before whole livelihoods are destroyed, as we witness in the three districts.
The disaster resulted in the closing of several schools in the Rubavu district, with power and communications cut off. It is reported that one hundred and twenty six electricity poles were put down – while heavy uprooted trees blocked roads for hours.
Coming at a time when almost all districts are constructing houses for genocide survivors as part of the reconstruction effort; it is only logical that we focus our efforts at ensuring that strong, durable, houses are constructed.
This calls for closer supervision of the construction work to avoid shoddy work carried out by constructors who are always in a hurry to earn a quick buck.
District planners and leaders should not leave the construction industry to the whims of individuals without any strict regulations for them to abide by.
More decent houses need to be constructed to enable people live in healthier environments. It is also evident that many people across developing countries live in poor shanty structures.
The lesson from the rains devastating impact should be in making these a thing of the past. Several classroom blocks and students’ hostels were also destroyed.
The Ministry of Education partnering with districts authorities should not abandon the schools to the ‘whom it may concern’ of the good-will ambassadors in the donor community.
The districts authorities should undertake the critical role of supervising the rebuilding of the schools. Certain schools have weak structures that endanger the lives of students and their teachers.
Such schools should not be allowed to operate until they guarantee the safety of students. The supervision should also be extended to private individuals providing hostel services to students.
Many a business men are simply after making money without minding of the kind of accommodation they give students who are normally desperate to get affordable accommodation.
In this endeavour the Rwanda Metrological Centre seems to have a very important role to play and therefore should be empowered to efficiently and timely carry out the weather forecasts in order to forewarn the population of the impending dangers.
With the weather forecast indicating heavy rainfall, authorities should do their best to prevent likely death or injuries as well as looking at ways of preventing similar destruction in future.
The other absurdity is that crops including banana and cassava plantations were destroyed. The victims should be assisted to tackle the possible food shortages.
It is evident that the storm came as a surprise to many. There were floods in the western province last year-but we could not expect that another catastrophe would strike again at this time – catching us unprepared.
Other of focus in our sustainable responses to averting future disasters would be to step up the tree planting campaigns through out the country.
Investment groups that have been set up in provinces and at districts levels should invest in housing estates. There is need for the Prime Minister’s office to have clearly laid out provisions to ensure timely responses to disasters.
The victims and authorities in the affected areas should be vigilant in ensuring security for their exposed properties against looters.
The Mayor of Rubavu, Céléstin Twagirayezu was on point when he urged residents not to wait for aid but mobilise their own resources.
Rwandans should not be complacent to imagine that the government owes them a living-what the government owes them is security.
What the government does is to provide an enabling environment that facilitates citizens engage in some sort of income generating activities.
Families need to design mechanisms to ensure that they are not totally desperate in case of disaster. While passing through some of the resolutions of the 2007 UN conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), I learnt that the conference ended with a note that some people would view as unkind for African countries which seem to believe that the rich nations of the west owe them a living.
The report from the conference castigated African countries for not ensuring that they have efficient institutions to guarantee ‘home-grown development initiatives’.
“…..Donor countries are tired of donating their tax payer’s money to countries that are not able to help themselves,” the report read in part.
Well, the government of Rwanda is still committed to helping its citizens out but such aid be it from government or other donors should not be taken for granted.