Tanzania earthquake exposes response weaknesses

Dar es Salaam — The Kagera earthquake which has so far killed 17 people has laid bare fundamental weaknesses in government response to disasters, some experts told The Citizen.

Five days after the quake which is the biggest to ever hit the country, the government is still struggling to coordinate and manage the flow of relief to the needy in Bukoba Municipality.

Experts and activists who spoke to The Citizen on Wednesday have accused the government for underfunding the Disaster Management Department (DMD) and rendered in incapable of acting quickly and efficiently in the event of a calamity. Reports from the ground in Kagera reveals that rescue teams including defence and security forces delayed in providing the earthquake victims with humanitarian assistance.

The level of intervention so far accorded also begs questions, for many of those who lost their houses are still out in the cold, with no food, water or medicines. At least 840 houses were reduced to rubble while more than 1,200 got badly damaged.

Our quick assessment of the situation by Wednesday showed that no centre has been established by regional disaster management committee to provide shelter and humanitarian assistance to the victims.

The last time Red Cross volunteers were seen was on Sunday during prayers for the deceased, a function officiated by Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa at Kaitaba Stadium.

Reached for comment, Regional Commissioner Maj General (rtd) Salum Kijuu said the victims were being supplied with necessary humanitarian assistance, insisting that he was still receiving assistance from well-wishers and the central government.

NCCR-Mageuzi chairman James Mbatia, who is also an expert in disaster management, was the first to raise the alarm over the critical humanitarian crisis at hand after the visiting Bukoba. He criticised the government for failing to make quick interventions.

Prof Haji Semboja of the University of Dar es Salaam told The Citizen that there was no need for the country to wait for a fund-raiser as the first act of a major intervention entailing the provision to victims basic needs of food, shelter and clean and safe water.

"The DMD was supposed to have in its possession standby cash and materials in the event of anything at any time, we don't need to look for donations at the first place. Fire brigade, defence and security forces should have immediately come to the aid of the victims... constructing temporary settlement centres, issuing blankets, clean and safe water, food and medicine--you name it," he said.

He argued that fund-raising should have come later after the evaluation is complete and the depth of the damage is established, and therefore the amount of resources needed for reconstruction is known.

Prof Semboja was referring to a fund-raiser organised by the Prime Minister on Tuesday, which managed to raise around Sh1.4 billion in pledges and cash.

The Tanzania Human Right Defenders Coalition (THRDC) national coordinator, Mr Onesmo Olegurumwa said the Kagera calamity has once again revealed seriousness of Tanzania's lack of standby funds to cater for pressing needs.

"The nation faces huge a problem with regard to disaster management funding and other challenges. Instead, we're developing a culture of fund-raising even in areas that the government is required to pick the bill, we started with desks, then classrooms and now, disasters... Yes, the donated Sh1.4 billion will help in addressing the immediate problems on the ground, but the government should now start to build its own capacity as well," he said.