Last week’s incident in which 39 students were stranded in Kisumu following the ban on night travel against buses by the National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA) points to an urgent need for improvement in Kenya’s emergency mechanisms.
Despite highly commendable efforts of the Kenya Red Cross Society (KRCS) in responding to this and many other cases, such as the numerous horrific road accidents, the incident exposed how lacklustre government responses can be, even to minor situations.
Considering how disruptive the night travel ban has been, the government seems to have been unprepared for the actions of one of its agencies, thereby being caught flat-footed by its numerous ramifications. The minors found themselves exposed to natural and negative social elements as they slept on cold pavements, at risk of being enticed by the adults revelling in nearby nightclubs.
At the very least, the students should have been offered security by the relevant officers.
It, therefore, seems that if an incident is not labelled a disaster or an emergency, then government agency responses tend to be at best slow and at worst unsure or confused, mostly due to a lack of optimised coordination.
While the National Disaster Management Unit (NDMU) has put in place the appropriate policy and guidelines, a great deal of training is still needed. Success can be achieved with a civil protection agenda, so that responders do not have to react to emergencies or disasters alone but also risks and hazards. Civil protection, therefore, works to guarantee the safety of every individual possible, in line with constitutional demands, however minor the situation is.
Civil protection principally comprises a combination of the three pillars: Contingency planning, emergency preparedness and disaster management or rescue services. It is, therefore, broader than disaster management because it plans for eventualities.
While disaster management has to rely on early warning signs, civil protection comprehensively envisions the various unimaginable catastrophes, tragedies or problems. This is done by creating multiple scenarios, thereby providing precise solutions through effective multiagency coordination.
The NDMU is, therefore, stuck in implementation of disaster management standard operating procedures (SOPs), which are very likely highly bureaucratic, for only one aspect of crisis response while other aspects are neglected. Obviously, from its policy documents, the reason for this is that emergency responses have been highly securitised after the many terrorist attacks.
For example, NDMU’s Basic Incident Management Guidelines only fathoms a gunshot or explosion as the most general situation in which an individual or group of people may find themselves. Yet, as in the case of the students, the situation pointed to totally different circumstances.
Civil protection could have also greatly assisted in the control and regulation of traffic during Christmas by offering the means for adequate coordination between the police, the NTSA, public service vehicle owners, private motorists and passengers.
Lack of acknowledging this comprehensive approach, however, is gradually ceding space to private sector initiatives such as “Kenyans for Kenya”, which have greater public confidence than government endeavours.
Officials, civil society, private sector and the general citizenry ought to create appropriate spaces at the national and county levels to implement civil protection against precarious circumstances.
Mr Wanyama is a development practitioner. [email protected] Twitter: @lennwanyama