Meaning of disaster management

WHO defines Disaster as “any occurrence that causes damage, ecological disruption, loss of human life, deterioration of health and health services, on a scale sufficient to warrant an extraordinary response from outside the affected community or area”. Disasters can be defined in different ways.

  • A disaster is an overwhelming ecological disruption occurring on a scale sufficient to require outside assistance
  • A disaster is an event located in time and space which produces conditions whereby the continuity of structure and process of social units becomes problematic
  • It is an event or series of events which seriously disrupts normal activities

The magnitude of the effects of the event will be viewed differently.


The country of Kenya has been stricken by various disasters ,Kenya’s disaster profile is dominated by droughts, fire, floods, terrorism, technological accidents, diseases and epidemics that disrupt people’s livelihoods, destroy the infrastructure, divert planned use of resources, interrupt economic activities and retard development. The Kenya government through the Ministry of State for Special Programmes has developed National Policy for Disaster Management in Kenya   and National Disaster Response Plan  to guide in the disaster risk reduction.

The history of disasters in Kenya has been collected to assist in predicting and planning for the future occurrences. The historical document has covered the period of disasters  occurrence, areas covered, the kind of disaster and the estimated causalities.

This report covers fires that date back to early February 2009.  We have since then had serious fire outbreaks  in many forests all over the country.  This state is attributed to prolonged drought conditions, heavy fuel loads in the forests and inaccessibility of the forests. The fires increased in the early days of the month of March, within the Mau complex, Mt. Kenya ecosystem, Aberdare Area and the response has been gaining grounds, so far the predicted fire behavior has not been good at all, as long as the rains continued to delay. The continuing fires are in Nakuru, Koibatek, Lariak, Meru south in Chogoria and the Kipipiri forest areas.  Most of the fires in Kipipiri have been put off except 2 fires.  The district forest officers are mopping up the fires and monitoring the situation.As of today 30th March 2009, most of the forest stations have reported that the ragging fires had been put off over the weekend by the showers that were there in most parts of the country.


The Nakumatt Supermarket fire broke out at 2.45pm on 28th January 2009. The cause of the fire is yet to be established but it is alleged to have been started by an electric power surge.

The Molo fire broke out on 31st January 2009 at 6.45 at a remote area known as Sachangw’an, 3 KM from Salgaa trading centre along Nakuru-Eldoret highway. It involved a Mercedes Benz truck Reg. No.KAY 030F that was carrying 50,000 litres of petrol from Kenya Pipeline Nakuru depot to Juba, Southern Sudan. The cause of the fire is not yet established but it is alleged that an irate person who had been denied access to siphon oil from the fallen tanker ignited the fire but himself was the first person to perish on the spot.

The effect of the two fires was too enormous in terms of human causalities, loss of lives and property and in testing the effectiveness of the Kenyan response systems. The effects of the fire could therefore not be ignored. All over a sudden, everyone realized how vulnerable they were and several interventions followed in succession of one another, which included establishment of the Nakumatt/Molo fire Victims Fund and its Management Committee and calls politicians and leaders for having in place a Disaster Management Policy and its Operational Plan.


When the fires broke out, the responses were timely – with all major response agencies taking part. For the Nakumatt fire, the Nairobi Fire Fighters were on the scene in 15 minutes while for Molo fire the General Service Unit personnel were on the scene even before the fire started. What followed is that these teams were ill equipped and had to seek help from other response agencies, both private and public, who either arrived too late, were equally ill equipped or were not well coordinated to effectively prevent the full cycle of the raging fires. By the time the fires had been contained, 29 people were confirmed dead and one survivor recorded in the Nakumatt fire tragedy and 373 persons recorded as victims in the Molo fire tragedy which included 130 who died on the spot and 243 who were hospitalized as either in-patients or out-patients in various hospitals in Molo and Nakuru. A significant number of the victims were airlifted to Nairobi Hospitals the same day. (See more statistics below).

On 6th February 2009, His Excellency the President, Hon. Mwai Kibaki established a Fund, ‘The Nakumatt/Molo Fire Victims Fund’ and its Fund Raising and Management Committee through Kenya Zagette Notice No. 1171. The objective and purpose of establishing the Fund was to provide (a) assistance in payment of medical bills; and (b) associated humanitarian assistance, to the victims of both tragedies. The Fund consists of donations by leaders, the private sector, the public service, the civil society, development partners, members of the public and other well wishers.

The Gazetted Fund Raising and Management Committee for the Fund comprise of

  1. Naushad Merali – (chairman),
  2. Peter Kahara Munga,
  3. Martin Oduor-Otieno
  4. Bethwel kiplagat; and
  5. Eddah Lisigi

The Committee is based in the Ministry of State for Special Programmes.
After its initial meetings the Committee co-opted other sub-Committee members to represent special interests. These include:-

  1. Daud A. Mohamed          – Permanent Secretary, Ministry of State for Special Programmes
  2. Abbas Gullet                   – Director,  Kenya Red Cross
  3. Dr. Francis Kimani          – Director, Medical Services
  4. Steve Smith                   – Chairman, Private Sector Alliance
  5. Joseph N. Macharia      –  Was appointed as Secretaries of the Committee


The Committee’s initial work was to establish the facts relating to the fires, and on 14th and 15th February 2009 it held its first meeting, visited all hospitals and the scene of the fire; and held discussions with patients, doctors, volunteers and Officials from Provincial Administrations and Internal Security. These interactions enabled the Committee to learn the status of the patients, the difficulties being faced in their treatments and to get vital relevant information.
The Committee next step was to fund raise for the victims as no budget had been set aside by the Government for the victims. On 19th February 2009, a fund raising ceremony presided by His Excellency the President raised Kshs. 80,700,000 on the spot with pledges coming in later. 80 percent of the amounts were raised by Public Servants led by His Excellency the president while the rest came from private sector. Motivated by the overwhelming generosity of the well-wisher, the Committee established other machineries to raise more money and Kshs. 111.4 million had been raised as at 2nd April, 2009. Donations in kind received from various donors in terms of Medical supplies, food and food items, and volunteer services were worth approximately Kshs. 20 million.

The Committee then decided to pay hospital bills and provide other humanitarian assistance.  The Committee on 4th March 2009 paid Kshs. 19,750,269.65 to eight hospitals as follows:-
(1)    The Mater Hospital                      Kshs. 9.396,684.95
(2)    The Aga Khan Hospital                Kshs. 5,416,338.20
(3)    The Nairobi Hospital                    Kshs. 3,742,218.50
(4)    War Memorial                              Kshs.     745,210.00
(5)    St. Joseph Nursing Home            Kshs.     203,100.00
(6)    Valley Hospital Limited                 Kshs.     144,638.00
(7)    Lee Funeral Home                       Kshs.      65, 000.00
(8)    St. Mary Mission Hospital            Kshs.       37,080.00

Total        Kshs. 19,750,269.65

On 18th Mrach 2009 an additional Kshs. 80,490 was paid to the following two hospitals:
(1)      Lee Funeral Home                  Kshs.      27,990.00
(2)    St. Mary Mission Hospital        Kshs.       52,500.00

      Total        Kshs.     80,490.00

As may be noted, no Public Hospital bill had been paid by 2nd April 2009 because the Committee had not received a comprehensive breakdown of the medical Bills and the medical supplies donated to them to enable the Committee makes a decision. By the time of preparing this brief, the bills were being sorted out for presentation to the Committee.

The Committee also has resolved to provide humanitarian assistance of Kshs. 50,000 to the victims to assist in burial or other humanitarian needs. However, it is only the next of kin of dead victims will receive the money. Survivors who were hospitalized for more than 15 days or more will also be paid Kshs. 50,000 each.  Already 6 people have been paid a total of Kshs. 300,000 and another 130 persons have been cleared to receive the payment. The remaining 164 persons who qualify for payment are being vetted before receiving the payment. In total, about 300 people will each be paid Kshs. 50,000 humanitarian assistance.

Regarding the Nakumatt fire Victims, Nakumatt Holdings Limited is meeting all the bills which include payments for the DNA tests and provision of humanitarian assistance of Kshs. 100,000 for every victim that died. The amounts are collected by verified next of kins of the deceased. The Committee is merely facilitating the process to ensure the money gets to the victims.

The Committee has also resolved to construct a memorial site where the accident took place and 78 people put to rest in a mass grave. In addition, the Committee has agreed to set aside some funds to construct a Burns Unit at the Rift Valley Provincial General Hospital.

The Statistics

1.    Molo   Fire Tragedy 373 people were affected out of whom:-

  • 31 are still Hospitalized – 6 in Kenyatta National Hospital and 25 in Rift Valley Provincial General Hospital.
  • 72 died in various hospitals where they were admitted
  • 68 had been admitted in various hospitals but have since been discharged
  • 72 had minor injuries and were treated and discharged the same day
  • 130 were badly burned some beyond recognition. Out of these 78 were buried in mass burial at Shachangw’ani, 42 were identified and claimed, and  10 were identified but unclaimed.
    It is out of these numbers that 300 beneficiaries will be identified to be provided humanitarian assistance.
  1. Nakumatt Fire Tragedy
  • 29 people died, out of whom 18 have been identified through DNA and 11 are yet to be identified through second round of DNA testing.
  • Initially it was reported that there were no survivors in the tragedy but later reports show that two people survived- one is still in Kenyatta Hospital and the other was treated at the Nairobi West Hospital and discharged but is still getting treatments.
    The Committee is still in operation and more details will be provided in our next brief.


Disasters are classified in various ways.

  • Natural disasters and Man made disasters
  • Sudden disasters and Slow onset disasters

The dividing line between these types of disasters is imprecise. Activities related to man may exacerbate natural disasters.

Disaster means Sudden or Great Misfortune

Although experts may differ in their definitions of disaster, many public health practitioners would characterize a disaster as a “sudden, extraordinary calamity or catastrophe, which affects or threatens health”.  Disasters include

  • Tornadoes,
  • Fires
  • Hurricanes,
  • Floods / Sea Surges / Tsunamis
  • Snow storms,
  • Earthquakes,
  • Landslides,
  • Severe air pollution (smog)
  • Heat waves,
  • Epidemics,
  • Building collapse,
  • Toxicological accidents (e.g. release of hazardous substances),
  • Nuclear accidents,
  • Explosions
  • Civil disturbances,
  • Water contamination and
  • Existing or anticipated food shortages.


Disasters throughout history have had significant impact on the numbers, health status and life style of populations.

  • Deaths
  • Severe injuries, requiring extensive treatments
  • Increased risk of communicable diseases
  • Damage to the health facilities
  • Damage to the water systems
  • Food shortage
  • Population movements

Health problems common to all Disasters

  • Social reactions
  • Communicable diseases
  • Population displacements
  • Climatic exposure
  • Food and nutrition
  • Water supply and sanitation
  • Mental health
  • Damage to health infrastructure


Hardly a day passes without news about a major or complex emergency happening in some part of the World.

Disasters continue to strike and cause destruction in developing and developed countries alike, raising peoples concern about their vulnerability to occurrences that can gravely affect their day to day life and their future.

Major disasters have had a big impact on the migration of populations and related health problems, and many millions are struggling for minimum vital health and sanitation needs and suffer from malnutrition.

Vulnerable Populations

Emergencies, especially those that occur in Nature, only become catastrophic events when they combine with vulnerability factors such as human settlements and population density.

An earthquake occurring in a deserted area would be considered a natural hazard; but if it occurred in a mega city it would be recognized as a major disaster.

Man made emergencies and another type of emergency that has to do with population vulnerability concerns technological disasters such as those of a Chemical or Radiological or Nuclear in nature. E.g. Bhopal Gas Tragedy and Chernobyl nuclear disaster.

These examples demonstrate that major and complex emergencies are closely linked to anarchic population growth, leading to unplanned population settlement, environmental degradation and poverty.

The lack of minimum health services and basic health education are aggravating factors which could make a disaster out of an emergency and a complex emergency out of social tension.

Civil Disturbance

Any incident that disrupts a community where intervention is equired to maintain public safety constitutes a civil disturbance. Some examples are demonstrations, riots, strikes, public nuisances, and criminal activities. Civil disturbance incidences may include resistance or rejection of all different types of control and authority. They tend to occur in areas of concentrated populations including sporting, concert, cultural and conference events. Some areas subject to civil disturbances may include college communities, areas with concentrations of disparate economic status populations and government offices. Some examples of criminal activities associated with civil disturbances may include looting, assault, property or environmental damage, illegal drug use or distribution, fire-setting, vandalism and violation of noise ordinances.


Devastating acts such as the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon have left many concerned about the possibility of future incidents in the United States and their potential impact. These attacks have raised uncertainty about what might happen next. Terrorism may involve devastating acts using weapons of mass destruction ranging from chemical agents, biological hazards, a radiological or nuclear device, and other explosives. The primary objective of a terrorist is to create widespread fear. Nevertheless, there are things you can do to prepare for the unexpected and reduce the stress that you may feel now and later, should another emergency arise.

The Palm Beach County Terrorism Response Program coordinates with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the United States Department of Homeland Security to ensure that the County’s terrorism response plan meets all state and federal requirements. Activities integrated in this coordination include planning, training, exercising, critical infrastructure enhancement, inter-agency cooperation, as well as grant identification and expenditure mechanisms to ensure that Palm Beach County has a viable anti-terrorism program that includes cross-agency training and development.

The program provides local partner agencies with support and technical assistance in order to adequately address their homeland security needs. In addition to the local activities, the program also participates in State and Federal planning groups and task forces.


Before a Terrorist Attack Occurs:

  • Have at least a 5 to 7 day Disaster Supplies Kit assembled.
  • Create a shelter-in-place plan.
  • Create an evacuation plan.

If you Receive a Bomb Threat:

  • Ask the caller the following questions: When is the bomb going to explode? Where is the bomb right now? What kind of bomb is it? What does the bomb look like? Why did you place the bomb? Where are you calling from?
  • Record the exact time and length of the call.
  • Write down the exact words of the caller.
  • Listen carefully to the caller’s voice and background noise.
  • After you hang up, call 9-1-1 immediately from a hard-wired telephone. Do NOT use cell phones to report a bomb threat.

If a Terrorism-Related Event Happens:

  • Stay calm and be patient.
  • Listen to a local radio or television station for news and follow the instructions of emergency service personnel.
  • Be vigilant. If the incident occurs near you, look out for secondary hazards such as falling debris or additional attacks.
  • Check for injuries and summon help for seriously injured people.
  • If the incident occurs near your home while you are there, check for damage using a flashlight. Do NOT use matches or turn on electrical switches.
  • Check for fires, fire hazards and other household hazards.
  • If you smell gas or suspect a leak, turn off the main gas valve, open your windows and get everyone outside.
  • Check on your neighbors, especially those who are elderly, disabled, or who live alone.
  • Only call 9-1-1 about life-threatening emergencies.


Homeland Security Advisory System

The Homeland Security Advisory System was developed to provide a comprehensive and effective means to disseminate information regarding the risk of terrorist acts to local, state and federal authorities, and the American people. This system provides warnings based on a set of graduated threat conditions that increase as the risk of the threat increases. At each threat level federal departments and agencies implement a corresponding set of protective measures to further reduce vulnerability or increase response capability during a period of heightened alert. There are five threat conditions, each identified by a description and corresponding color.



Definition and Measurement

“An earthquake is a sudden motion or trembling of the ground produced by the abrupt displacement of rock masses”.

Most earthquakes result from the movement of one rock mass past another in response to tectonic forces.

The focus is the point where the earthquake’s motion starts,

The epicenter is the point on the earth’s surface that is directly above the focus.

Earthquake Magnitude is a measure of the strength of an earthquake as calculated from records of the event made on a calibrated seismograph.

In 1935, Charles Richter first defined local magnitude, and the Richter scale is commonly used today to describe an earthquake’s magnitude.

Earthquake Intensity

In contrast, earthquake intensity is a measure of the effects of an earthquake at a particular place. It is determined from observations of the earthquake’s effects on people, structures and the earth’s surface.

Among the many existing scales, the Modified Mercalli Intensity Scale of 12 degrees, symbolized as MM, is frequently used

Earthquake Hazards

Earthquake hazards can be categorized as either direct hazards or indirect hazards.

Direct Hazards

  • Ground shaking;
  • Differential ground settlement;
  • Soil liquefaction;
  • Immediate landslides or mud slides, ground lurching and avalanches;
  • Permanent ground displacement along faults;
  • Floods from tidal waves, Sea Surges & Tsunamis

Indirect Hazards

  • Dam failures;
  • Pollution from damage to industrial plants;
  • Delayed landslides.

Most of the damage due to earthquakes is the result of strong ground shaking. For large magnitude events, trembling has been felt over more than 5 million sq. km.

Site Risks

Some common site risks are:

  • Slope Risks – Slope instability, triggered by strong shaking may cause landslides. Rocks or boulders can roll considerable distances.
  • Natural Dams – Landslides in irregular topographic areas may create natural dams which may collapse when they are filled. This can lead to potentially catastrophic avalanches after strong seismic shaking.
  • Volcanic Activity – Earthquakes may be associated with potential volcanic activity and may occasionally be considered as precursory phenomena. Explosive eruptions are normally followed by ash falls and/or pyroclastic flows, volcanic lava or mud flows, and volcanic gases.


The term “cyclone” refers to all classes of storms with low atmospheric pressure at the centre, are formed when an organized system of revolving winds, clockwise in the Southern Hemisphere, anti-clockwise in the Northern Hemisphere, develops over tropical waters.

Cyclones are classified on the basis of the average speed of the wind near the centre of the system as follows:

  • Wind Speed                            Classification
  • Up to 61 km/hr                    Tropical Depression
  • 61 km/hr – 115 km/hr          Tropical Storm
  • Greater than 115 km/hr       Hurricane



A hurricane is a low pressure, large scale weather system which derives its energy from the latent heat of condensation of water vapor over warm tropical seas. A mature hurricane may have a diameter ranging from 150 to 1000 km with sustained wind speeds often exceeding 180 km/hr near the centre with still higher gusts.

A unique feature of a hurricane is the Eye. The eye provides a convenient frame of reference for the system, and can be tracked with radar, aircraft or satellite.


The Saffir/Simpson scale is often used to categorize hurricanes based on their wind speed and damage potential. Five categories of hurricanes are recognized:

¨     Minimal, Moderate, Extensive, Extreme & Catastrophic

The destructive potential of a hurricane is significant due to the high wind speeds, accompanying torrential rains which produce flooding, and storm surges along the coastline



Tsunamis are Ocean Waves produced by Earth Quakes or Underwater land slides.

The word is Japanese and means “Harbor Waves”

Tsunami is actually a series of waves that can travel at speeds from 400-600 mph in the open ocean. As the waves approach the coast, their speed decreases, but their amplitude increases. Unusual wave heights of 10-20 ft high can be very destructive and cause many deaths and injuries. Most deaths caused by Tsunamis are because of Drowning. Associated risks include;

  • Flooding
  • Contamination of Drinking Water
  • Fires from ruptured gas lines and tanks
  • Loss of vital Community Infrastructure [police, fire, medical]
  • Areas of greatest risks are;

Less than 25 feet above sea level

Within 1 mile of the shore line.

Environmental Conditions left by the Tsunamis may contribute to the transmission of the following diseases, from Food or Water

  • Diarrhea illnesses;  Cholera, Acute Diarrhea, Dysentery
  • Hepatitis-A, Hepatitis-E
  • Typhoid Fever
  • Food borne illnesses; Bacterial; Viral; Parasitic; Non-infections;


The effects of nuclear holocaust will result into blasts, heat storms, secondary fires, fire, ionizing radiation and fall outs. These effects fall into 3 categories;

  1. Immediate,
  2. Short term and
  3. Long term effects.

The immediate effects

Include blast effects, heat effects, electromagnetic pulse (EMP) effects and radiation effects.

The short term effects

Include problems connected with water supply, sanitation, food, dispersal of excreta, wastes and dead bodies, and break down of vector control measures and outbreak of infections. Radioactive contamination of water and food are major concerns. The affected area creates a lot of other problems for the survivors and the rescue teams. Major problem among survivors is of bone marrow depression resulting in leucopenia, which increases their susceptibility to infections.

Long term effects

The knowledge about the long-term effects is still incomplete. Some well-known effects include radiation injuries due to radiation fallout, suppression of body immunity, chronic infection and other associated illnesses.  Persistent radiation hazards will lead to prolonged contamination of water supply, increased ultraviolet radiation, climatic and ecological disturbances, psychological disturbances and genetic abnormalities.

Current World Concern

In the light of the above facts the current world concern about the use of nuclear weapons is justified.  The world already possess an estimated total of 30,000 megatons of nuclear weapons with a total explosive power 50-100 times greater than that of all the explosives used during the Second World War. Even if 1% of the nuclear weapons now possessed are used on urban populations, they can cause more deaths in a few hours than during the entire period of the Second World War.

The fundamental aspects of Disaster Management Program

  • Disaster Prevention
  • Disaster preparedness
  • Disaster response
  • Disaster mitigation
  • Rehabilitation
  • Reconstruction

Fundamental Aspects of Disaster Management

  • Disaster response
  • Disaster Preparedness
  • Disaster Mitigation

These 3 aspects of Disaster Management corresponds to the 2 phases in the Disaster Cycle, ie,

  1. Risk Reduction Phase, before a Disaster
  2. Recovery Phase, after a Disaster

Issues of Disaster Management

Personal mitigation is mainly about knowing and avoiding unnecessary risks. This includes an assessment of possible risks to personal/family health and to personal property.

One example of mitigation would be to avoid buying property that is exposed to hazards, e.g., in a flood plain, in areas of subsidence or landslides. Home owners may not be aware of a property being exposed to a hazard until it strikes. However, specialists can be hired to conduct risk identification and assessment surveys. Purchase of insurance covering the most prominent identified risks is a common measure.

Personal structural mitigation in earthquake prone areas includes installation of an Earthquake Valve to instantly shut off the natural gas supply to a property, seismic retrofits of property and the securing of items inside a building to enhance household seismic safety. The latter may include the mounting of furniture, refrigerators, water heaters and breakables to the walls, and the addition of cabinet latches. In flood prone areas houses can be built on poles/stilts, as in much of southern Asia. In areas prone to prolonged electricity black-outs installation of a generator would be an example of an optimal structural mitigation measure. The construction of storm cellars and fallout shelters are further examples of personal mitigate actions.

Mitigation involves Structural and Non-structural measures taken to limit the impact of disasters.

Mitigation efforts are attempts to prevent hazards from developing into disasters altogether or to reduce the effects of disasters. The mitigation phase differs from the other phases in that it focuses on long-term measures for reducing or eliminating risk. The implementation of mitigation strategies is a part of the recovery process if applied after a disaster occurs. Mitigation measures can be structural or non-structural. Structural measures use technological solutions like flood levees. Non-structural measures include legislation, land-use planning (e.g. the designation of nonessential land like parks to be used as flood zones), and insurance. Mitigation is the most cost-efficient method for reducing the affect of hazards although not always the most suitable. Mitigation includes providing regulations regarding evacuation, sanctions against those who refuse to obey the regulations (such as mandatory evacuations), and communication of risks to the public.  Some structural mitigation measures may harm the ecosystem.

A precursor to mitigation is the identification of risks. Physical risk assessment refers to identifying and evaluating hazards. The hazard-specific risk (Rh) combines a hazard’s probability and affects. The equation below states that the hazard multiplied by the populations’ vulnerability to that hazard produces a risk Catastrophe modeling. The higher the risk the more urgent that the vulnerabilities to the hazard are targeted by mitigation and preparedness. If, however, there is no vulnerability then there will be no risk, e.g. an earthquake occurring in a desert where nobody lives.

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