=ONE ON ONE= Director Warns Against Bad Treatment of Environment As the rains will never stop falling…

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With Prince C. Kamara

In the following interview, AYV’s Prince Christopher Kamara speaks with the Director of Disaster Management in the Office of National Security. He raises among other issues the importance of the participation of the general public towards treating the environment the correct could go a long way in reduce severity of future emergencies or disasters. Excerpts:  

Prince C. Kamara: Good morning sir,could we start by you giving us your name and designation?

John V. Rogers: My name is John V. Rogers. I am Director of Disaster Management Department– Office of National Security.

Prince C. Kamara: Some weeks back you conducted simulation exercises. Could you jog the memory of the general public as to what that was all about?

John V. Rogers: That exercise was an exercise that was done in preparation for any situation related to disasters either man-made or natural. As you very well know, and as the public may know, we have had series of climate change vulnerability around the world and Sierra Leone being part of the global community is not exempted from the challenges that are associated with the climate and therefore what we did was that we had a constructive engagement with our partners especially the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). We got ourselves prepared and we made sure that we are working with other stakeholder institutions both within government and non-governmental organizations. So we were able to bring all of them together at the Family Kingdom for three days simulation drills on various scenarios related to the environment and related to the weather.

Prince C. Kamara: How effective could you say was that in relation to reality on the ground?

John V. Rogers: I am proud to say it was quite effective. Of course, you had all the players that were supposed to be part and parcel of our engagement at national level and we had other players coming from other institutions and we even had UN bodies were present in this particular exercise. Many a time when disasters occur we bring them all together in a single room under coordination; we make sure because of their engagement, we give them their roles and responsibilities for them to discharge and to leverage upon a particular issue that may have happened of may be affecting communities in society. So this is how we engage; bringing them together to make sure they take their roles and responsibilities with the maximum seriousness will go a long way to determine how we address future issues that may happen in various communities around Freetown and the country at large.

John V. Rogers

Prince C. Kamara: Talking about preparedness, people may want to know in terms of logistics: ambulances, man power etc., in the event of an emergency or disaster, does the ONS have what it takes to manage or contend with any such future eventuality?

John V. Rogers: The Office of National Security (ONS) works with various partners. For example the Ministry of Health and Sanitation – in terms of emergency or disaster they would leverage all their ambulances to any response mechanism that we have. The Sierra Leone Red Cross Society and Red Crescent Society institutions will equally leverage their resources – that is how we work. When it comes to non-food items, we have institutions that have responsibility. What we normally do is to make sure we activate the whole process. There are various levels of activation; level 1 to level 3 depending upon the complexity and the severity of the particular situation.

Prince C. Kamara: It would not be smooth sailing all the way. There must be some challenges. What could they be?

John V. Rogers: There are of course challenges. It is not a smooth sail over calm water. It is not like having a sharp knife running through a ripe banana. There are challenges and these challenges actually lie in areas where you expect cooperation. Sometimes when we meet we give roles and responsibilities; we give action points; we make sure   that people follow-up on those action points. But sometimes there are delays. These delays do not come from us; they come from partners. And this would normally impact upon our responses. There are areas where you expect to respond within seventy-two hours as stated by the international community. Sometimes those responses may not come within seventy-two hours and any response that does not happen within seventy-two hours, is not an emergency assistance because at the end of the day if you have areas where the roads are very bad, you cannot go there so easily. If you have areas where you realize that there are water bodies that can limit your movement, you cannot go to those places very easily as a result of nature. So those are some of the limitations that normally impede effective response. There are other related factors for example, in Freetown look at urbanization. I normally make reference to this particular scenario. In 2018, we had three major fires; one that happened in Kroo Bay on the 3rd of March; one that happened at Susan’s Bay on the 7th of March and the other happened just opposite the West Africa Examinations Council (WAEC) at Tower Hill. These are slum communities where you don’t have roads. Even when the National Fire Force made sure that their fire engines were present, yet those fire engines did not enter into the theatre scene of operations. So, they looked at the fire and the fire did what it could at that particular point in time. So this is a big challenge. All what we are doing now is that we make sure we engage the requisite state institutions to make sure they play their own part so that at the end of the day, if something happens, there will be access roads to go to those places; there’ll be people to ensure that they take their roles and responsibilities and what we do from the Office of National Security is make sure that we encourage and we monitor the activities of those institutions in performing their roles and responsibilities to a logical conclusion.

Prince C. Kamara: One area people have some concern over is maritime safety. How equipped is the Maritime sector to handle emergencies at sea and how quick would their response be?

John V. Rogers: There is an outfit known as the Joint Maritime Committee. It is a multi-stakeholder committee that was put together by government in 2006. They have responsibility for security at sea taking into consideration all of the challenges faced by people that are navigating across both our national and international waters. Of course we have the EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone) and the IEZ (Inshore Exclusive Zone). Those areas are about 12 nautical miles when you take a look at the EEZ; and about 200 nautical miles when you look at the IEZ. You realize that in those areas – the IEZ is being fairly monitored by the Joint Maritime Committee under the chairmanship of the Maritime Wing of the RSLAF. But the point of interest here is that there are outfits that they are supposed to have and they normally work in partnership with other institutions. You realize that the country was at a particular point experiencing a lot of poaching in our sea and sometimes there is an operation known as AMLEF in which they normally cooperate with the Coastguard from America. Many a time when these Coastguard ships come to Sierra Leone, all of those engaged in poaching activities on the high seas would disappear until such a time when those boats go back to the USA. These are the kinds of challenges that we are normally faced with. But I will tell you for free that the professionals that are in the field; the RSLAF Maritime Wing, SLP Marine Wing, SLMA are doing a wonderful job and I’m sure they would continue to do that. We have had one or two sea issues and they were able to quickly respond to that. Sometimes people are stranded at sea as a result of related factors – bad weather; lack of communication or lack of fuel. Anytime these distress calls are made they would normally make sure they are able to locate and rescue them. At the Joint Maritime operation center at Murray Town, there is radar which looks over our waters and you have outfits through which communication can flow easily – this place runs 2-4-7.

Prince C. Kamara: What is your message to allay the fears of the general public as the Rainy Season when disasters are expected draws nearer?

John V. Rogers: People should know how to behave in tandem with the environment. Don’t throw rubbish into the storm drain channels, it will get clogged and it will cause temporary flooding in your environment. People should not throw rubbish into the streets at the end of the day you are creating problem for emergency workers. You must make sure that you go in line with the rules and regulations and the by-laws that they have at council level. Let us stop deforestation; stop the cutting of trees in protected areas – the Western Area Peninsula Forest is a protected forest. But every now and then, people are doing illegal activities such as stone mining; people are cutting down trees; you go to the seafront people are doing illegal sand mining and all of these constitute a situation that can lead to disaster. Nobody will stop the rain from falling, it will fall. But if the rain is falling, let us make sure that if there is an occurrence of an event, we reduce the severity of that event by making sure we do the right thing and this lies squarely within the ambits of the responsibility of the general public. What we do is that as whistle-blowers, we normally bring it to the attention of the general public.

Prince C. Kamara: Thank you for your time sir.

John V. Rogers: You’re welcome.