Since the reintroduction of multiparty politics in 1994, the issue of decentralisation has gained national currency. Among many advantages, decentralisation leads to efficiency, as district councils are given a chance to make decisions that impact on residents’ lives, often in matters of life and death, without necessarily depending on a central authority.
We find it ironic, therefore, that, while Malawi has come a long way in inculcating the spirit of community participation through decentralisation, one of the important areas in national development, namely emergency response, remains the exclusive of one central authority. We are referring to the Department of Disaster Management Affairs (Dodma).
It is common knowledge that while natural forces such as rains are the bedrock on which food security measures lie, their onset spells both good and bad news for the country.
It serves as good news in the sense that Malawians get another chance to cultivate crops and prop up food security while the bad news aspect comes in because, recently, disasters such as floods have become synonymous with the wet season in some parts of the country.
Just two years ago, Shire Valley districts such as Nsanje and Chikwawa bore the brunt of too much rainfall when villages lay in ruins, haunted by deaths, injuries and the spectre of starving families. This year, it was the turn of Lilongwe, hitherto regarded as safe ground when it comes to floods.
And, as usual, Dodma’s response was not as quick as anticipated. This is an indication that it is high time Dodma decentralised some of its activities as some district commissioners have suggested.
Get us right. We are not suggesting that the current set-up is a complete let-down. We know, for sure, that the centralised nature of Dodma has helped the government impose order during disorder, in terms of financial and material mobilisation.
However, such a system has its disadvantages. For example, in cases where disaster impact areas are many, Dodma gets overwhelmed and outstretched. Consequently, the department prioritises some areas over others, a development that culminates in preventable deaths and injuries or, at best, claims of favouritism.
We would, therefore, like to ask the authorities to decentralise Dodma’s operations in order to ensure effective response to emergency situations. We agree, entirely, with Vice-President Saulos Chilima’s suggestion, during his countrywide consultation tour of local councils on disaster risk management, that Dodma should shed off some of its powers.
Otherwise, the country will continue to sing the song of acting too little, too late. That, clearly, is a recipe for disaster during emergencies.
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