The landslide that occurred in Mbankolo, Yaounde, on Sunday flattened and demolished several houses, rendering many homeless.
Some victims have had to spend the past nights in open air after losing their houses and other property to the disaster.
Yesterday, the Ministry of Territorial Administration (MINAT), which operates the disaster management unit of the Cameroon Government, began offering materials to the victims.
Among them were mattresses, blankets, soap, buckets, cooking oil, rice, and other basic items.
But many have been asking how these people are going to utilize the materials when they have no houses to shelter them at the moment.
“They don’t have where to sleep, you offer them mattress. Get a hotel, or set up a camp, set up tents where they can put your mattresses to use,” said Francis Zeufack.
Karlos Nde also wondered: “Where are they going to sleep with that mattress?
They would have given them free accommodation, three square meals for a minimum of 1 year. When they pick up with life the government now can leave them alone.”
At least 30 people died and several homes were completely or partially destroyed when an over flooded lake burst out in Mbankolo, Yaounde, on Sunday evening following heavy rains.
The muddy waters flattened many houses, burying dozens of people underneath. Some victims are still missing four days after.
On Tuesday, the Minister of Communication, Rene Emmanuel Sadi, announced the government was setting up an emergency relief post at the landslide site.
This post, he said, was aimed “to provide first aid to the disaster victims, to organize the security of the site, to search for anyone missing and to offer psychological support to the affected people”.
Many saw this as a laudable move to provide immediate relief to the victims. But they have kept asking where those who now have no shelter would go to.
“I retained ‘the Head of State sent the mattresses’. Lord! What country are we in? What is the procedure in this type of situation? Why are we always improvising? Did Ngouache teach us nothing?” Lamented Steve Fah.
Unfortunately, the government has not communicated any plans to provide homeless victims with shelter.
It rather appears there is a short term plan to render more people homeless by evacuating them from the risky area.
Yesterday, MINAT announced that authorities are “working to provide adequate responses to alleviate any new risk” of disaster at the site.
Speculations are that people will be evacuated from the area.
Some of the landslide victims have virtually spent the past four nights in open air because they have no place to go to lay their heads.
Default Mode Of Operation
The government’s default mode of responding to disasters in the country has remained unchanged for years.
At the site of each catastrophe, President Paul Biya has often saddled the Minister of Territorial Administration with a very predictable offer —mattresses, blankets, rice, sardines, oil and buckets.
Surprisingly, the disaster response usually ends at these and nothing else is done, as seen in recent catastrophes.
Cameroon has witnessed a series of disasters recently, including floods, landslides, collapse of buildings — that have claimed the lives of several persons and left several others homeless.
On Saturday, March 18, flash floods hit the town of Buea, killing at least two people. A demolition that aimed to prevent a recurrence of the disaster left several victims homeless.
Despite the visits of Ministers Atanga Nji and Nalova Lyonga to the scene, the homeless victims were never provided an alternative shelter.
In July, a landslide that occurred at the Cassava Farms area in Limbe left at least five people dead.
Again, Minister Nalova Lyonga went to the scene, donated money for relief materials, but no measures were taken to resettle homeless people.
Also, local authorities have continued tolerating people living in risky areas in Limbe.
No Disaster Management Structure
Arguably, one of the major challenges hindering adequate responses to disasters in Cameroon is the absence of a national disaster management structure.
Disaster related activities are part of the civil protection responsibilities of the Ministry of Territorial Administration (MINAT).
But this unit has often fallen short of adequately responding to the humanitarian needs of disaster victims.
A 2014 study revealed that the Cameroon Government is more reactive than proactive in its disaster risk response (DRR) approach.
Allocating the disaster management responsibility to MINAT is “bureaucratic, financially burdensome and does not really achieve the essential goals of DRR in saving lives and reducing vulnerability,” the study argued.
Nearly 10 years after the research was published, the government’s disaster management strategy has remained unchanged.
Disaster is managed from the presidency and down to the Subdivisional Officers, through the Ministry of Territorial Administration, Regional Governors and the Senior Divisional Officers.
Another study published in 2019 deems Cameroon’s disaster management system weak.
This weakness is because the system “lays more emphasis on disaster response than on risk prevention and mitigation,” the study notes.
In countries like the United States of America, disaster management is handled by a separate body that also coordinates national humanitarian response.
This structure, known as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), is responsible for ensuring the complete safety and well-being of disaster victims.
In times of emergency, the structure takes responsibility for: transportation, communications, firefighting, information and planning, mass care, emergency assistance, temporary housing, human services, logistics, and public health and medical services.
Tata Mbunwe contributed to this story