The Gambia has been experiencing more and more disasters. Realising that simply responding to these events is not enough, the Government has launched national initiatives to integrate disaster risk reduction into sustainable development.
Furthermore, The Gambia is ranked amongst the least developed countries in the world. A small country, it has a land area of 11,300 km2, bounded to the west by the Atlantic Ocean and by Senegal on all other sides. It is divided into the North and South Banks of the River Gambia, which claims at least 20% of the country area. During the ten years from 1993 to 2003, its population increased by over 31%, with an average annual growth rate of 2.77.
The Gambia has a large agricultural sector (livestock, crops and fisheries), a relatively small industrial sector (formal and non-formal manufacturing, building, construction and tourism) and a large services sector dominated by the government. Its 81 km coastline provides for tourism and recreation. Available natural resources include minerals, sand, fish, forests including mangroves (wood and non-wood products) and wildlife.
Increasing Disaster Occurrences
The Gambian climate is Sudano-Sahelian, characterised by a long dry season from November to June and a rainy season from mid-June to October. The landscape is predominantly flat, with the lowest point at sea level and the highest point at 50m above sea level. This semi-arid geography and changing topography, coupled with the high population growth and density, makes the country prone to disasters e.g. floods, especially in the rural areas.
One of GEAP’s six components is Contingency Planning and Disaster Preparedness. Within this focus, national consultative meetings identified the following ten priority vulnerability areas for contingency plan development: floods, droughts, coastline oil spills, road incidents of hazardous substance transfer, refugees, building collapse, bush fires, ferry disasters, aircraft crash outside airport and industrial incidents.
In May 1996, The Gambia Government launched it’s The Gambia Incorporated: Vision 2020 national policy document for the period 1996-2020. In the document, the Government declared its will and commitment to initiate disaster relief strategies and programmes to combat and alleviate the cost of disasters when they occur. This policy commitment necessitated the establishment of the National Disaster, Emergency Relief and Resettlement Committee (NDERRC) in 1997, under the chairmanship of the Vice President. Initially the NDERRC dealt with mostly refugee welfare; however its mandate has now been expanded into other areas of disaster management.
The main objective of the NDERRC is to manage and coordinate humanitarian assistance to disaster victims. It also works on planning and preparedness to prevent disasters where possible and reduce the impacts of natural hazards. The Committee has a broad membership including the Government of The Gambia, as well as national and international NGOs. From time to time, when their input is needed, other sectors including the media may be co-opted into the NDERRC.
To enhance capacity in disaster management, Committee members attend periodic training on risk reduction and humanitarian assistance. For instance, a simulation exercise was carried out on the Ferry Disaster Contingency Plan to test the understanding, capabilities and responsibilities of relevant stakeholders. The Coastal Oil Spill Plan was also recently reviewed to cover all types of oil spills. To compliment the national plans, some institutions have developed risk reduction and contingency plans specific to their activities.
National Disaster Secretariat Soon to be Established
The aforementioned strategy has not yet addressed medium to longer-term aspects of disaster management. It focuses mainly on immediate emergencies and crisis management. The Gambia Government has acknowledged that disaster issues are complex, such that a committee cannot address them effectively. In this regard, there is a strong consensus to develop an integrated and effective disaster mitigation office with clear legal authority to undertake a revised method of disaster planning.
A plan is currently being implemented for the establishment of a National Disaster Secretariat, to be maintained under the multi-sectoral Office of the Vice President. The Secretariat is to address the following gaps:
- Lack of national capacity in risk reduction (human and financial resources).
- Identification of the gap between preparedness and response in order for better risk management to minimise disasters and impacts.
- Better integration of disaster management into sustainable development planning and poverty reduction programmes, for instance the Vision 2020 policy.
- Need to improve permanent communication systems to allow reporting of incidents and quick mobilisation of stakeholders, especially where road networks and telephone lines are destroyed during incidents.
- Emergency data collection and improved recording techniques to include not only the number of occurrences, but also affected population, precise dates, secondary impacts and accompanying costs. A good data system will help identify trends to help strengthen long- term emergency planning.
Disaster Risk Reduction for Sustainable Development
Over the past five years appeals for donor assistance have been made in response to various disasters. The received funds and material donations contributed to humanitarian relief needs, infrastructure repair, rehabilitation of community services such as wells and livestock watering points destroyed by disasters.
The Government of The Gambia, recognizing the need for adequate disaster preparedness in the wake of the accelerated pace of disasters in the country, launched a disaster strategy mitigation appeal to the UNDP. Through this appeal, the Government hopes to formulate and deploy an effective policy and legal framework and develop institutions that manage and coordinate disaster-related activities in an efficient manner at both national and local levels.
This appeal has culminated in the establishment of the UNDP-supported Disaster Management Project.
The overall strategic objective of the project is to support the full integration of disaster preparedness, mitigation and response into the country’s longer-term development process. This in turn should promote a more effective use of The Gambia’s available resources, minimize the suffering caused by disasters and ultimately ensure an uninterrupted pace of sustainable development. This fundamental objective is closely related to the country’s broad development policy objectives.
The focus of this project amongst other things will be on capacity building support through training and awareness creation. Project interventions will be linked to decentralization programmes at the local level as well as to national poverty reduction efforts.