Anne Qureshi (December 19, 2013)
UAE, which is located near the edge of the Arabian Plate adjacent to the Iranian plateau and close to the Zagros Fault zone, characterized by high seismic activity, is not as safe from natural hazards as has often been assumed. Therefore, there is a need to develop a national response culture to protect the lives of Emirati citizens against all possible risks and hazards.
It is the adoption of right customer service philosophy by UAE government that can protect the lives, property and assets of its citizens, in times of emergencies and crisis. In addition, citizens should also be aware of the basic steps to deal with different types of emergencies, crises and disasters. A practical illustration of the same is ‘Be Prepared’ initiative mentioned below:
NCEMA and GWU jointly launched a training programme, dated June 22, 2013, under the directives of Her Highness Shaikha Fatima bint Mubarak, Chairwoman of the GWU, Supreme Chairwoman of the Family Development Foundation and Chairwoman of the Supreme Council for Motherhood and Childhood.
This knowledge and skill development training programme was rolled out throughout the country, where women were given special training to identify different types of emergencies like earthquakes, fires and building collapses and were familiarized with ways to manage them.
The programme also enabled them to perform various types of health and safety measures like firefighting and evacuation operations, first aid procedures in workplace and at home, and practical exercises dealing with risk management.
Managing an emergency is not just the role of the government or private institutions, but also the responsibility of local citizens. Therefore, there is a need to spread awareness about risks and to include citizens in the efforts to address disasters, by educating them about the adequate course of action to take in emergencies and crises. Let’s talk about some important sectors where knowledge building and reinforcement can greatly help to reduce or eliminate the effects of an emergency.
The easiest way to create awareness among people is through education. But, we first need to answer:
Educational institutes must introduce DRR (Disaster Risk Reduction) and DRM (Disaster Risk Management) as separate subjects into student’s academic curriculum. Providing preliminary knowledge to students and instilling basic concepts in their fresh minds right from the beginning i.e. school age can greatly help to make them prepared for the right response.
Educational institutes must initiate awareness programmes on frequent basis to educate students on the best ways to deal with crises and disasters. In addition, students must undergo practical exercises like emergency evacuation drills, knowledge about alarms and warning signs, and first aid safety procedures. Such timely interventions would be greatly helpful to create an overall national response culture in UAE.
Sometimes emergencies and disasters are man-made, instead of natural hazards. Few examples of the same are burning incense at home, and chemical plants and factories constructed near the residential areas.
Majority of the Emirati citizens have made it a cultural practice to burn incense such as ‘oud and bakhoor’ in their homes, without knowing the serious consequences afterwards.
According to the researchers of Hazard Assessment, UAE, dated August 8, 2013:
‘When incense is burned, especially if exposure is longer than two to three hours per day, it could be a potential risk of inflammation of the lungs.’
This type of indoor air pollution is a serious health concern and should be immediately taken care of. In addition, residents should take all possible measures to increase ventilation in homes.
Another type of potential health hazard for Emirati citizens is the construction of chemical plants and factories near residential areas. The chemical gases and radiations being discharged from these plants could adversely affect thousands of people, causing serious respiratory diseases. Citizens must be informed about the safety measures like face mask covering, personal protective equipment and appropriate control measures, while crossing the area to reduce the exposure to the hazard to the lowest level.
The principal reasons for the continuing increase in natural disasters are related to the growth of population, the increase in building density and the growing concentration of people in urban areas that are more highly exposed to natural disasters.
UAE is undergoing construction and development at an unprecedented pace and scale. The rapid growth of population and its increased concentration in urban centers, with a lack of a clear hazard planning policy and engineering regulations for seismic resistance contributes to making this area more vulnerable.
The most highly developed and populated area of UAE is Dubai, where there is a constant change and development in the environment, resulting in the construction of high-rise buildings, which further increases risk and exposure of the urban citizens.
Dubai is located in a ‘Zone 0’, but it applies ‘Zone 2a’ measures during the construction of buildings, meaning that majority of the offices and residential towers exceed earthquake standards. Also, majority of the buildings were built before seismic requirements were imposed. All buildings can resist a force of 5.5. In those terms, UAE is lucky that the most extreme earthquake it has ever experienced is that of a 5 on the Richter scale.
It is strongly recommended that all under construction buildings above ten stories should be designed for a higher level of seismic hazard, and DRR and DRM measures should be taken as obligatory measures in construction and engineering regulations.
Coming years may bring bigger emergency and crisis management challenges, with new types of hazards and disasters. Therefore, the federal government of UAE must create an overall national response culture to effectively deal with these challenges. Better education and awareness of citizens about vulnerability and disasters is crucial. Therefore, more emphasis should be put on prevention and education methods of citizens, along with the primary mission of building more resilient communities.
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