Building disaster response capacity in Nigeria

Published: 10 July 2013 15:26 CET

By David Fogden, IFRC

Isioma Ben-Okeke knows the destruction flood waters can cause. As an employee with the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), Nigeria’s coordinating agency for the management of disasters, she visits villages hit hard by disaster and sees first hand the crumbled houses and schools, and crops inundated and overflowing with dirty water.

She also witnesses the reconstruction efforts. In August 2012, heavy rains in Nigeria caused flooding that forced hundreds of thousands of people from their villages. Homes were destroyed as were schools, health care centres and valuable farmland.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) launched an emergency appeal to support the Nigerian Red Cross Society as it responded, providing life-saving items to thousands of people.

Ms Ben-Okeke visited the Odogwu and Ozahi communities in Kogi State where the Red Cross is assisting 100 households in the rebuilding of their homes. “The Nigerian Red Cross Society has made a substantial contribution to the flood operation, and we have relied on them,” Ms Ben-Okeke noted. “The Nigerian Red Cross staff and volunteers have a real passion for their work, and the organization, with its widespread network at the community level, has been vital to our overall rebuilding efforts.”

Houses are being rebuilt using techniques that will make them more resilient to flooding in the future. It is hoped that the techniques used and lessons learnt can be replicated in other states in Nigeria.

Attending a workshop put on by the Nigerian Red Cross Society to showcase these initiatives, Ms Ben-Okeke said,  “I am impressed. The Nigerian Red Cross has adapted local practices, for example, damp-proofing traditional mud brick walls, to help mitigate the impact of floods on these communities. When the rains come, it will be a good test. It will prove to people that the approach works, so they will then take it up themselves.”

The Nigerian Red Cross Society has forged a strong relationship with NEMA since a memorandum of understanding was signed between the two organizations in 2012, and Ms Ben-Okeke sees potential for them to work together in the future to disseminate the lessons gained from the activities in Kogi.

“In the future, a workshop could be organized with other actors, who are coordinating with NEMA, so that we can share the experiences of the Red Cross and what has been learned in Kogi.”

The rainy season has started again in Nigeria and many people are still at risk as they have not fully recovered from the last year’s severe flooding. In May 2013, the IFRC revised its emergency appeal to help ensure communities are as prepared as they can be for the challenges ahead.