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Chapter One Foundation calls for declaration of COVID-19 national disaster

CHAPTER One Foundation has called for declaration of a national disaster under the Disaster Management Act No. 13 of 2010 instead of a threatened or actual state of emergency in view of the coronavirus.

Executive director Linda Kasonde said following the declaration of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) as a pandemic by the World Health Organisation, several efforts have been put in place in Zambia and other countries to stop the spread of the dreaded virus and mitigate the social and economic impacts of the virus.

“We commend the Zambian government for its efforts in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic. However, there are concerns in the public that the measures are not enough to protect the people of Zambia. We have seen and heard calls for the President to exercise his power under Article 30 of the Constitution of Zambia to declare a State of Emergency so that the Zambian government can issue regulations to control the spread of the pandemic,” she said, in reference to Constitutional lawyer John Sangwa’s call on Thursday.

“Chapter One Foundation disagrees with these calls as the provisions on the declaration of a threatened or actual state of emergency in Article 30 and Article 31 powers must be used sparingly.”

Kasonde said this was because the use of emergency powers suspends the human rights contained in the Bill of Rights.

“Chapter One Foundation is of the firm view that the Disaster Management Act No. 13 of 2010 provides an adequate and comprehensive framework for the government to take the necessary measures to address the COVID-19 scourge without unduly compromising on human rights unnecessarily,” she said.

Kasonde said South Africa had successfully managed to put in drastic measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus using the provisions of the South African Disaster Management Act.

She said the Zambian Disaster Management Act, defines a disaster as – “an event that is associated with the impact of a human induced or natural hazard, which causes a serious disruption in the functioning of a community or society, causing widespread human, material or environmental losses which exceed the ability of the affected community or society to cope with the hazard using its own resources.”

“We believe the COVID-19 pandemic falls within the definition of an event that is associated with the impact of a human induced or natural hazard and it has caused and will cause serious disruption in the functioning of society. The pandemic will cause widespread human losses which our fragile heath care system and economy cannot withstand.”

Kasonde said the government had a duty to protect the people from the looming disaster that the COVID-19 virus poses.

She said the virus had already disrupted air travel in many countries as well as potentially disrupting trade between Zambia and her trading partners across the world.

She said the virus if not managed would disrupt the various developmental programmes the government had implemented.

Kasonde said the Disaster Management Act was designed to allow government to manage disasters such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

She said Section 2 of the Act defines “disaster management” as the “continuous and integrated multi-sectoral, multi-disciplinary process of planning and implementation of measures aimed at; preventing or reducing the risk of disasters; mitigating the severity or consequences of disasters; emergency preparedness; a rapid and effective response to disasters and post-disaster recovery and rehabilitation.”

She said the COVID-19 pandemic required the government to prevent and reduce the risk of the pandemic spreading further than it has in Zambia; mitigate the severity of the consequences; respond rapidly and develop and implement post COVID-19 recovery and rehabilitation measures.

Kasonde said this could only be done by a continuous integrated multi-sectoral and multi-disciplinary process of planning and implementation.

She commended the government for establishing a multi-stakeholder COVID-19 response committee, which has already put in place efforts to manage the pandemic.

“However, as highlighted by various stakeholders, the efforts so far implemented are not enough to address the pandemic,” she noted.

Kasonde said Section 36 of the Disaster Management Act allows the government to declare a disaster or designate an area a disaster area. Section 37 of the Disaster Management Act provides as follows: “37. (1) Where a declaration of a state of disaster is made under section thirty-six, the President, in consultation with the Council, may make regulations relating to -the release of any available resources including stores, equipment, vehicles and facilities; the release of personnel of a State organ or institution for the rendering of emergency services; the implementation of all or any of the provisions of a national disaster management plan that are applicable in the circumstances; the evacuation to temporary shelters of all or part of the population from the disaster-stricken or threatened area if such action is necessary for the preservation of life and the regulations of traffic to, from or within the disaster-stricken or threatened area.”

Kasonde said others were the regulation of the movement of persons and goods to, from or within the disaster stricken or threatened area; the control and occupancy of premises in the disaster stricken or threatened area; the provision, control or use of temporary emergency accommodation; the suspension or limiting of the sale, dispensing or transportation of alcoholic beverages in the disaster stricken or threatened area; the maintenance or installation of temporary lines of communication to, from or within the disaster area and the dissemination of information required for dealing with the disaster.

Kasonde said others were emergency procurement procedures; the facilitation of response and post-disaster recovery and rehabilitation; other steps that may be necessary to prevent an escalation of the disaster, or to alleviate, contain and minimize the effects of the disaster; or steps of the facilitate international assistance.

“(2) The Powers referred to in subsection (1) may be exercised only to the extent that this is necessary for the purpose of-
(a) assisting and protecting the public;
(b) providing relief to the public;
(c) protecting property;
(d) preventing or combating disruption; or
(e) dealing with the destructive and other effects of the disaster,” Kasonde said.

She said the powers contained in the Disaster Management Act No. 13 of 2010 were broad and effective enough to allow the government and all stakeholders work together to fight the COVID-19, which the Republican President referred to as a “war”.

Kasonde said the measures under the Disaster Management Act were designed to allow the government implement a humane approach to managing disasters.

She said such measures could include restrictions on movement and even a lockdown similar to the regulations in South Africa, which had also opted to use its Disaster Management Act instead of invoking a state of emergency.

“As an organisation that, among other things, promotes and protects human rights, we cannot support the calls for the President to declare a State of Emergency when there are other adequate alternatives. We are of the view that the constitutional provisions on a state of emergency are better suited to situations of actual war or civil strife,” she said.

“We strongly believe that rather than invoking provisions that result in the suspension of the Bill of Rights, it is a respect for human rights that will allow this government provide the solutions the country needs. The government must tackle this pandemic whilst respecting the rights of the people in Zambia. We accept that even under the Disaster Management Act, Zambian nationals will suffer some inconvenience. However, we are confident that Zambians will accept these difficulties in order to save lives.”

Kasonde commended the various institutions and State organs that had put in place measures to address the spread of the pandemic so far within limited resources.

She urged each institution to look at its mandate and reflect on the way it could contribute towards limiting the impact of the pandemic.

Kasonde said some measures that could be taken should consider the most vulnerable in society such as women, children, prisoners and people in detention facilities, the sick and disabled.

She urged resource mobilisation in order to protect the most vulnerable in society in the event that the country goes into lockdown mode.

Kasonde said Zambians look to the government and the President in particular to provide leadership “during these dark times”.

“Chapter One Foundation would like to encourage the President and his government to remain steadfast and strong in this trying time. We urge the government to consider the advice of various stakeholders, whoever they are and judiciously weigh such advice against what is best for the Zambian people,” she said.

She said any decisions the government makes must comply with the Constitution and particular regard must be made for the National Values and Principles in Article 8 of the Constitution as well as the principles for Executive authority under Article 90 of the Constitution which states: -“The Executive authority derives from the people of Zambia and shall be exercised in a manner compatible with the principles of social justice and for the people’s well-being and benefit”.

Kasonde said Zambians were prepared to suffer some inconvenience, they just need strong purposeful leadership.

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