Liberia Hosts Disaster Policy Forum…Veep Says It Is Not A “Maybe” Situation

By C. Winnie Saywah-Jimmy

National and regional stakeholders of national disasters response have begun examining and discussing the Liberian government’s disaster management plans, policies and procedures as well as its adequacy to respond to major local, regional and global disaster events as the Ebola virus takes a toll in the sub-region.

Opening the one-day government high level disaster preparedness and response top table exercise held in Monrovia on April 8, Liberia’s Vice President, Joseph Boakai, admitted that the country’s preparedness for disaster is currently low and in order to do better as a nation, all stakeholders should bear in mind that national disaster preparedness must begin with the host.

He acknowledged that Liberia has a long way to go in placing disaster management systems on par with other sisterly states in the West African region but added that the better prepared a nation is can effectively guide the efforts of those who come to assist.

VP Boakai commended organizers of the meeting and observed that its aim is to search for more innovative ways to strengthen and raise the level of the country’s disaster management because disaster is not a ‘maybe’; it is sure and only the matter of time.

He told the meeting that it was his hope that deeper understanding is sought and lessons of experience from others are derived since Liberia already has a formulated proposed policy framework for disaster management.

“Leadership is about removing obstacles so that the job can be done for it is only through a well formulated response strategy both material and training that we can prevail against disaster so that it does not leave a toll in casualty that should not be if the nation or people are better coordinated,” he said.

In her special remarks, the United States Ambassador, Deborah Malac, also informed the meeting that the ‘Responding to crises and peacekeeping operation capacity building’ is a phase of the partnership between the country and the US Government through its Command Disaster Preparedness Program that is most significant.

Ambassador Malac said it addresses wide range of issues associated with an interagency and multinational response to a major disaster which calls for collective and collaborative examination in order to assess the United States Africa Command’s ability to respond to a major regional or global disaster.

Describing the US government’s role in helping Liberia in disaster management from the initial phase of emergency planning to the post operation phase, she pledged her government and partners of Liberia support in ensuring that the country is prepared to meet any natural disaster or pandemic.

Ambassador Malac said her government considers its role a ‘shared priority and an innovative collaboration’ with other countries and international organizations thereby putting its contributions toward the process to half a million dollars.

Meanwhile, the four-hour disaster meeting focused on issues associated with governance, organizational structures and capabilities of the Liberia National Disaster Relief Commission to respond to major national, regional or global disaster events.

The objectives of the meeting is to provide guidance for the future organizational structure of disaster management within the country, identify mechanisms to coordinate the activities of government ministries, agencies and other stakeholders during disaster events, identify requirements which need further research and or action to improve the ability of government to effectively manage disaster and identify actions needed for Liberia to comply with ECOWAS mandate.

However, the participants included senior government officials from key ministries and at least a member each from the House of Representatives and the Liberian Senate who had key roles designated to them in order to direct and support disaster response operations, but not a single member of the National Legislature was at the opening ceremony to highlight the recent stance taken by that body, an observation which ignited laughter from the audience.

Even though Bong County Representative George Mulbah was seen in the corridors of the meeting venue after the opening and general photo taken, it is expected that the Liberian government officials participating in the event will identify gaps in the organizational structure for disaster management as well as gaps in management policies, plans, and procedures and recommend changes.