Thinking in the future but preparing now
A UNICEF partnership is strengthening the capacity of local governments in Uganda to manage disasters through contingency planning
“It is really possible to have a disaster-free community?”
A team of 35 district officials gathered at a conference hall in Soroti District, pore over this statement as they work at developing a concrete vision statement on managing disasters in their district.
The heads of department, administrators and even law enforcement representatives from Amolatar District local government agree that whereas disasters cannot be eliminated, they can be managed.
“The important thing is to think of an outcome, what you would like to see in the future, regarding disaster management,” the facilitator guides.
The training sessions are the first component of a UNICEF-funded project aimed at strengthening local government emergency preparedness and response in Uganda. During the one-year project being implemented by World Vision in partnership with the Office of the Prime Minister, over 120 district local government officials in four districts will be equipped to effectively respond to disasters in a timely manner. The key focus is on attaining active involvement of the district in developing a contingency plan that will guide district-led disaster management.
“A contingency plan helps you think in the future _ and plan for it,”
"We cannot prevent all disasters from happening, but we are equipping the local governments to prepare for them, respond effectively through them and then recover from them.”
The training targets local government officials in four disaster-prone districts; Amolatar in the north, Serere in the east, Nakasongola in central and Kagadi in western Uganda. The four districts are affected by floods and drought, two of the highest-impact hazards noted in a 2019 World Bank disaster risk profile for Uganda. The report projects that up to 50,000 people could be affected by floods in Uganda, and 4.5 million by drought each year.
Back at the conference hall, Raymond Kirungi, the Disaster Preparedness Officer, Office of the Prime Minister, leads the participants through the training sessions, with a progression through disaster awareness and then contingency plan building.
“I did not understand all the terms relating to disasters, but now I can clearly explain hazards, vulnerability exposure, disaster risk and other terms,” one participant exclaims.
After four days of learning and brainstorm, the Amolatar District Local Government officials finally have a nearly complete disaster management contingency plan with a district profile, clearly scoped out hazards, the accompanying disaster risks, likelihood of occurrence, potential impact, response and mitigation measures, and the resources required to implement these measures. During the final collective brain storming session, the team deliberate over the intended outcome of the plan, also known as the vision, followed by goals, and strategic objectives.
‘Resilient’, ‘prepared’, ‘respond’, were the key words that sounded throughout the vision boarding session. After an hour, the Amolatar District Local Government team agreed on a vision for the contingency plan on managing disasters in the district, ‘A resilient society before, during and after disaster.’
Despite four days of early morning starts and late evening departures, the Amolatar District team seem even more invigorated with the progress made.
“We never had a structured plan for response so we have been gambling with disasters, but now we have direction, precision, uniformity and a high level of commitment from all district stakeholders,” Jerome Anach, the District Planner explains.
The Resident District Commissioner of Amolatar, Patience Nambale agrees, “We do not know when disasters will happen but we now know what to do.”
Even as the Amolatar delegates headed back home, a smaller four-member working group makes plans to meet the following week to refine the contingency plan and then present it to the district council, World Vision, UNICEF and the Office of the Prime Minister for validation. The plan will thereafter be disseminated in the community and simulation exercises held to test understanding, application, and effectiveness of the recommended measures.
Jacob Opio, the Emergency Specialist at UNICEF Gulu Zonal Office highlights the commitment to continue working with the district officials to ensure that the impact of the training trickles down to the communities, particularly women and children, who usually are the most affected by disasters.
“It is not just about having a contingency plan, but utilising it to enable effective response in keeping children healthy, safe, protected and in school,” Opiyo concludes.