Poor attitude by students toward disaster management courses in higher institutions of learning has been cited as one of the main reasons behind the current skills gap in disaster management.
It is believed that students shun these courses because they think there are minimal job opportunities.
Speaking at an international conference on sustainable development on Wednesday, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Disaster Management and Refugees affairs, Antoine Ruvebana, said there are many untapped opportunities in disaster management, and called on students to take up such courses.
“At the ministry we have two officers with expertise in disaster management yet we have two main departments dealing in research and public awareness as well as prevention, response and recovery. We need skilled personnel to carry out public awareness and research about disasters the country is at risk of having,” Ruvebana said.
He said the ministry looks to deploy disaster management officers in all the districts.
The conference is held under the theme; “Sustainable Development of Territories: Cartography and GI support”.
It was organised by the Independent Institute of Lay Adventists of Kigali in partnership with Xinjiang Institute of Ecology and Geography, Chinese Academy of Sciences.
Ruvebana said the conference would help identify expertise available in the country and how they can work with other institutions to achieve the ministry’s mandate.
“We need the GIS technologies and remote sensing. However, we lack experts in that area,” he said.
He added, “GIS technologies can help establish the topography of a given area, soil type, amount of rain expected in a given period of time, among others, thereby making it easy for us to predict a disaster early enough and prevent it before it occurs.”
Bridging the skills gap
A centre for geographical information systems and remote sensing under the University of Rwanda’s College of Science and Technology has been put in place to teach GIS and remote sensing as well as applied GIS for disaster, environment, natural resources management and climate change management, among others.
Gaspard Rwanyiziri, the director and senior lecturer at the centre, is optimistic that by 2016 they will have bridged the skills gap in disaster management.
“At the moment we do not have anyone with a PhD in geo information science. But so far there are five people persuing the programme in The Netherlands and we plan to send four others in Sweden. We hope that in the next five years, Rwanda will have experienced personnel in this field at PhD level,” he said.
Dr Jean Ngamije, the Rector INLAK, said the conference which attracted participants from Europe, Asia and Africa will help build capacity for both lectures and students.
Natural disasters such as floods, earthquakes, landslides and epidemics costs the government about Rwf1 billion in reconstruction each year, according to statistics released in March this year.
The figures also indicate that 100 lives are lost, 200 people left handicapped, 3,000 housing units destroyed and 3,000 hectares of crops damaged each year as a result of disasters.