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Managing disasters, contingency fund is the answer

Tue, 15 May 2007 Source: GNA

A GNA feature by Caesar Abagali

Tamale, May 14, GNA - Once again another disaster has struck the country though limited in dimension. The disaster lacks a national character but the heavy and strong winds that swept the roofs and buildings of many people in the Tamale Metropolis and some parts of the Brong-Ahafo Region is a forerunner to other possibilities in the future. This should be a wake up call to the nation and the Government to prepare adequately before such events occur.

On Saturday night, April 21, 2007, a calamity befell the people of the Tamale Metropolis. Some described it as a tragedy. Others said it is a natural disaster but some blamed it on a mere destruction of property due to haphazard residential development.

Whichever name is given to the disaster, most of the people including children are affected. Children and vulnerable people had been rendered homeless. Grief hung on their faces. Psychological trauma engulfed them. They are miserable and need help to resettle. There are varieties of disasters that have far-reaching impact on our national life. The phenomenal climatic changes and in their wake, storms, floods, tsunami and other associated events.

Tribal wars, chieftaincy conflicts, crop failures and a host of others both predictable and unpredictable should foreworn us of the time and the need to put in place adequate management.

Some disasters are avoidable while others are not. The avoidable ones include tribal wars and chieftaincy conflicts. Whether disasters can be avoided or not, it would be instructive to build a National Emergency Contingency Fund (NECF), revolving in character and cumulatively built towards such disasters. Its national planning teams are not to be disrupted. Attention should be given to the fund as is being done to the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS).

Disasters do not announce before they occur so the fund should not be used for any other thing whatsoever. Again, it is a painful and undeniable fact that many years before the occurrence of the energy crisis, the signs were clear but Governments ignored them and failed to take action that would have forestalled what is happening today. In the case of Tamale and the other towns in the Northern Regions, such disasters when they occur they exacerbate the problems of the people there and worsens their woes in poverty and hunger. The Tamale disaster has displaced more than 6,900 persons. It has destroyed over 750 private homes and 59 Government bungalows while 36 schools also had their roofs ripped off.

A number of low voltage electricity poles and four high-tension poles were also destroyed disrupting power supply to parts of the city including the only Teaching Hospital in the whole of the North. Shopping malls and market stalls were not left out, 180 streetlight poles and many billboards were also destroyed. Huge trees were uprooted and blocked some major roads in the Metropolis. The estimate of the extent of damage the storm caused is 39.8 billion cedis. That is why the attention given by President John Kufuor and his Government is commendable. The Government, three days after the disaster sent relief items worth more than one billion cedis as an initial assistance to the displaced persons affected by the rainstorm disaster that hit the Tamale Metropolis.

A Government high-powered delegation led by Mr Albert Kan-Dapaah, Interior Minister had visited the Metropolis so was Vice President Alhaji Aliu Mahama.

They all pledged the Government's commitment to bring timely relief to alleviate the plight of the victims.

President John Agyekum Kufuor attached much importance to the disaster and personally paid a day's working visit to disaster hit areas to assess the situation.

He called on the country's development partners for support to resettle the displaced since the Government alone could not meet the total cost of the damage. He said, "The country's economy would dislocate if Government is going to shoulder all the cost." This shows how destructive the storm was.

For now, Tamale alone should not be the focus of attention. All areas in the country that had been hit either by rainstorm disaster, disease, hunger or any misfortune befalling the citizens no matter the extent of damage should be seriously tackled to bring in relief to them. For the people of the North, leaders of the nation should begin to anticipate crop failure and hunger. This is because the change in the rainfall pattern this year would confuse many farmers. The rains had started early in April instead of May/June when planting is done. Some may plant earlier and succeed or fail. Others may also plant late and fail or succeed.

The setting up of the Tamale Emergency Relief Fund (TERF), though belated, is also commendable. It now behoves all citizens whether resident in Ghana or abroad and nongovernmental organisations to contribute generously to support the displaced persons to resettle.

Columnist: GNA