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Italian Civil Protection meets stakeholders and civil authorities in Cameroon 

A first report on the Crisis management in Cameroon 

 

By Dr. Vittorio Bosi

Department of Civil Protection, Italy

 

In the frame of the MIA-VITA European project, the Italian Civil Protection Department performed a mission to Cameroon in August 2011.

It aimed at developing activities related to the WP7 (Users’ needs and volcanic threat management) and WP8 (Validation, dissemination of results and users’ training) work packages. In particular, the main objectives of the mission were:

- to outline the main features of the Civil Protection in Cameroon (at national and regional level) and  the relationship among civil protection stakeholders;

- to outline the relationship between Civil Protection and Scientific Institutions, responsible for volcano monitoring and analyses;

- to understand and collect the needs of the Civil Protection System through the analysis of its strength and weak points;

- to understand and analyse the main risks concerning the volcanic activity of Mount Cameroon, and the possible effective response in case of eruption;

- to disseminate MIA-VITA project at national level and regional level, with the leading of the Department of Civil Protection of Cameroon.

 

The programme has been organized with the effective and intense collaboration of the Minister of Mines, Industry and Technological Development (MINIMIDT) in Cameroon. It has been planned in two phases: the first one took place in the capital city (Yaoundè), in order to meet the stakeholders at national level; the second one was in the Mount Cameroon area (Buea city and its surround), to meet the stakeholders at regional and local level.

At national level, the Italian Civil Protection delegate had meetings with: the Director of the Directorate of the Civil Defence (DCD) and President in charge of the International Civil Defence Organization (Dr. Jean-Pierre NANA), the “National Focal Point” of the National Risk Observatory (Dr. Célestin KEN GNE), the Chief Commander of the National Corps of Fire Brigades (Brigadier Ahmed MAHAMAT), the General Secretary of the Red Cross (Nicolas MBAKO), the MINIMIDT responsible of MIA-VITA project (Dr. Guillaume Sosthène MANANGA) and the MINIMIDT responsible for cartography and socio-economical study of MIA-VITA project in Cameroon (Dr. Emmanuel KOUOKAM).

Moreover, other meetings have been organized with civil authorities and stakeholders at regional and local level (i.e., the Governor of the Buea region, the regional delegate of the Minister of Health, the regional delegate of Minister of Communication, the regional secretary of the Red Cross) and with the scientific Institutions responsible for the monitoring (i.e., the ARGV- Antenne de Recherches Géophysiques et Volcanologiques and the Metereological centre of Ekona).

 

During all these meetings, the organization of Civil Protection system has been outlined. Results obtained are described here, with the main strength and weak points of the system.

Civil Protection Organization

At national level, one of the main structures of the Civil Protection system is the Directorate of Civil Defence (DCD), which is under the coordination of MINATD (Ministry of Territorial Administration and Decentralization). It is organized in two main poles that include the Research and Prevention Unit and the Sub-direction in charge of Coordination and Intervention (Fig. 1). Moreover, there is a Permanent Secretariat in charge of projects and programs on assistance in civil protection, as well as the presence of a National Risk Observatory (Fig. 2).

 

Fig. 1 - Organization chart of the Directorate of Civil Defence of Cameroon

 

In case of an emergency, all the activities regarding the civil protection response are directly coordinated by DCD itself instead by the MINADT, as it normally occurs for the Department of Civil Protection in Italy. This is well accepted by all the components of the civil protection system, convinced that it is best way to cope with a catastrophe.

 

Fig. 2 Flow chart that highlight the position and hierarchy of the NRO and NDPMP in Cameroon

 

The regional structure of civil protection is connected to the national one through the NRO (National Risk Observatory) from one side and directly with DCD from the other. The Governor is responsible for civil protection actions in case of local emergencies. The regional structure is in contact with the Institute of “Antenne de Recherches Géophysiques et Volcanologiques” (ARGV), even if ARGV warns directly also the DCD in case of anomalies. ARGV operates within the Institute for Geological and Mining Research and is in charge of the geophysical program for the study and assessment of volcanological hazards.

In case of emergency, the intervention is set mainly with the great support of Red Cross, volunteers, and Fire-Fighters.

Strength points on Civil Protection system

NRO – National Risk Observatory

A special role is assigned to the NRO, which is composed by the delegates of the Ministers, Regional Authorities, Red Cross, Fire-fighters, Scientific Institutions and Civil Protection functionaries. The NRO has the responsibility and the duty to collect, analyse, store and disseminate all the information about natural and anthropic risks. The NRO convenes every three months, under the coordination of a “National Focal Point” who belongs to the DCD.

NRO is very effective: the precise recurrence for the meeting (every three months) and the presence of all the authorities involved in civil protection activities appears as very useful and powerful tool for risk preparedness.

 

Training of regional and local Authority

Training activities are performed by the national DCD to disseminate the culture of Civil Protection towards the main regional and local authorities, responsible for quick response in case of emergency.

 

Scientific Projects

The results of the scientific projects are taken into particularly account as insights for future development. As an example, the National fire brigades are planning to build a new advanced fire-fighters post close to Mount Cameroon in a safe area recognized by the hazard and risk maps performed by the GRIMP (Gestion des Risques Naturels et Protection Civile) project. At the moment the nearest fire-fighter post is at about 80 km from the volcano, in an area often hit by landslide which caused many victims in 2010.

Opportunities for action

DCD organization

The Directorate of Civil Defence of Cameroon is composed mainly by functionaries with an administrative background without technical expertise, leaving to the scientific Institutions the responsibility of analysing the monitoring data and the possible scenarios. In our experience technical/scientific experts employed in the civil protection organization can help to coordinate scientific activities strictly connected with civil protection matters and to make synthesis of the all monitoring results coming from the different Scientific Institutions. Furthermore, scientific and technical expertise in DCD could give clear direction of monitoring development in relation to the needs. The publication of the handbook planned at the end of MIA-VITA project (“Handbook for volcanic risk management”) could help the DCD of Cameroon to understand better what scientists can provide to civil protection Authorities.

Awareness

The people awareness of the volcanic risk in Cameroon is quite scarce and it is due to many different reasons (i.e., culture, state of poverty, different spoken languages, long time interval since last eruption). It is, in fact, not easy to increase awareness on natural risk when people have other greater problems in their daily life. The MINIMIDT is doing a very interesting and fruitful work in the region of Buea, but more effort should be done, even following the insights given by the work package 5 studies (i.e., Socio-economic vulnerability and resilience) of MIA-VITA project in this area (see http://miavita.brgm.fr/pressroom/Pages/socio-economicvulnerabilitystudy.aspx). The generation of a volcanological culture is essential. As an example, the ARGV has suffered many damages on seismic stations in the last 10 years. These damages were caused by local people who believed that these instruments could generate a volcanic eruption. Some of these stations are now on maintenance, and the network results less performing. It appears therefore clear how is important to get local people informed about risk prevention. If people are aware of the importance of monitoring instruments, they probably will not try to destroy them again but, on the contrary, they may help to take care of them.

Fire Fighters

As it has been already mentioned, an advanced fire-fighter post does not exist in the Mount Cameroon area at present time. It will be set in the next two years, and it appears to be one of the main priorities. Despite the limited available resources, the Civil Protection of Cameroon is pretty well organized and efficient. It can be a very good example for other Civil Protection agencies. With few small improvements, it can be ready to operate well in the case of resumption of Mount Cameroon volcanic activity. The mission of Italian Civil Protection delegate in Cameroon was very useful for the knowledge that have been shared and that will be reported and developed in the handbook for risk management, which will be published in October 2012.

Acknowledgement

I am indebted to Dr Emmanuel Kouokam for the organization of all the meetings and the field trip. Dr. Célestin Ken Gne is thanked for the assistance and the time he spent with us around Mount Cameroon. I am grateful to Dr. Jean-Pierre NANA, who received me with his sympathy and courtesy. He gave us a clear view of civil protection in Cameroon. I thank the researchers of Buea University for the good work they are doing on risk perception under the coordination of Dr. Emmanuel Kouokam. I am also grateful to Dr. Maria Apa Pannaccione (INGV-Italy) for her kindly explanation of the sociological approach in Cameroon. Finally, I thank Chiara Cristiani and Licia Costantini for the useful suggestions and the revision of this short note.

My eyes will always remember this beautiful country and the smiling people of Cameroon