Friday, March 19, 2010

Alarming Rate of Environmental Degradation

NEWS BANJUL THE GAMBIA(MB)-The Gambia Government recognises the alarming rate of environmental degradation and the increasing levels of disasters in the country.
This is according to the national draft report entitled “Views From The Frontline” based on survey conducted in The Gambia, carried out by the Children For Children Organisation (CFCO) with its partners involved in a research project in the country.
According to the report’s Executive Summary, the Gambia is one of the 168 member states of the United Nations which signed and adopted the HYOGO Framework for Action (HFA) in Kobe, Japan 2005.
This is a key framework on implementing disaster risk reduction measures within the overall goal of building the resilience of nations and communities to disasters.
The report stated that disaster management in Gambia has been based a top-down management approaches which were simply unsuccessful in addressing the needs of vulnerable communities.
According to the report, a better understanding of disaster and losses in the Gambia today reveals that the increase in disaster occurrence and disaster related losses is due to the exponential increase in occurrence of small and medium scale disasters.
Against this background, it is important to adopt a new strategy, such as the bottom-up approach, because communities are considered the best judges of their own vulnerability and can make the best decisions regarding their own well-being.

The CFCO national coordinator, Ibrahim Ceesay, was contacted on 14 February 2010 to shed more light on the contents of the report.
He said that the survey, “View From The Frontline”, was the first attempt to involve local stakeholders from government and civil society to measure progress towards implementing disaster prevention measures at country level, adding that the project is being implemented in several countries at the global level.
Mr. Ceesay stated that the project was designed to support the implementation of the HFA by establishing a global infrastructure to measure progress at the local level, noting that the infrastructure will provide a provisional baseline by which future progress can be periodically assessed.
The role of civil society in the assessment, Mr. Ceesay added, is crucial as the information gathered will be collated and analysed at the local, national and regional levels to identify good practice, critical success factors and key constraints towards progress.
He recalled that CFCO in January 2009 organised a consultative and briefing meeting with stakeholders on the “Views From The Frontline” project, and in July 2009 another consultative workshop was held, in which government officials, youth organisations, media, among others, attended to share experiences and ideas about the report. The workshops, he said, were all successfully conducted as the participation and the turn out was “very impressive”.
About the HFA, Mr. Ceesay said “the required outcome of the HFA is a substantial reduction in disaster losses by 2015. To achieve this outcome, the impact of the HFA must be felt on the ground where people who are at risk live, eat and work. Effective implementation of the HFA will require strong accountability, based on the ability to measure progress towards objectives”.
Building a strong evidence base, he continued, will inform public policy work and can serve to facilitate dialogue between civil society organisations and public authorities.
“This dialogue can encourage agreement on policy positions and build broad based advocacy coalitions and alliances that will enable local voices to be clearly heard within national, regional and international decision-making processes.
“Local communities and civil society organisations participating in the review process will be able to use the information produced to develop ways forward to address the main challenges”, he added.
Quoting the report’s Forward authored by Mr. Ceesay himself, he said disasters are no longer seen as extreme events created entirely by natural forces, but as manifestations of unresolved problems of development.
According to Mr. Ceesay, the poor are often those most affected by a disaster; yet, he said, it is too simplistic to assume that there is a direct and absolute correlation between poverty and vulnerability. Poverty, he explained, is an indicator of lack of access to resources and income opportunities, and that is only one of the several dimensions of vulnerability.
The report is meant to provide guidance for government and relief agencies on disaster risk issues, and it is to be used as a tool in the Gambia on how it is viewed, and how the local communities are affected.
“We hope this report will be a useful guide for implementation of the HFA in The Gambia which is a key framework for implementing disaster risk reduction and building resilience of communities to disaster”.
According to the CFAO coordinator, the following were identified as communities at risk: Basse (URR) Janjanbureh (CRR) Jarra Soma (LRR) Kerewan (NBR), Brikama (WR), Ebo Town (KMC) and Banjul (BCC).
A total of 102 questionnaires were filled by CSOs, community and government representatives in all the places.
A common survey method that was designed by the Global Network of Civil Society Organisatins for Disaster Reduction (GNDR) was used to ensure high quality standards and cross country comparability, according to Mr. Ceesay.
Speaking on the main challenges in the implementation of the HFA process in the country, based on findings, Mr. Ceesay spoke of a lack of awareness campaigns on HFA, limited capacities, a disaster policy which has limited applicability in the informal sector, weak infrastructure and regional disaster management committees.
Also a lack of coherency in disaster management and response in The Gambia, poor analytical expertise and limited experts with relevant qualifications, he added. He also cited issues such as a low funding base and being under-resourced, a multitude of small players and issues of legitimacy, accountability and transparency.
According to him, various recommendations were made by the respondents during the survey, and participants in the community consultations recommended the need for multi-stakeholder engagement. That is, the government, private sector, CSOs, vulnerable and affected populations and communities on disaster risk reduction.
The recommendations also included to ensure local ownership of the HFA so as to amplify local voices at grass roots and national level, to mobilise communities and CSOs, through capacity building training programmes and massive awareness campaign activities on Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR).
Also to develop early warning systems and contingency plans to ensuring the pre-positioning or storage of a minimum amount of food and medical supplies and equipment that might be needed by affected communities in case of a disaster.
Still dilating on the recommendations, Mr. Ceesay said these included the harnessing of resources, coherency in disaster management and response through improved partnerships between the CSOs and the government.
Also regular coordination meetings and networking, coalitions and to ensure proper use of natural resources to decrease environmental degradation, as well as ensure that construction standards are disaster-resilient.
The CFCO coordinator thanked various organisations, CSOs, NGOs and institutions for making the project a success.
He gave special thanks to all regional governors and mayors, regional disaster management focal persons, the media and all those who participated in the survey in the country.

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