Address by Minister Van Rooyen at the 2016 International Day for Disaster Reduction

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ADDRESS BY THE MINISTER OF COOPERATIVE GOVERNANCE AND TRADITIONAL AFFAIRS, MR DES VAN ROOYEN, at the COMMEMORATION OF THE INTERNATIONAL DAY FOR DISASTER RISK REDUCTION, 13 October 2016, Ekurhuleni

 

Programme Director,

MECs for local government

Japanese Embassy representative,

UN Community representative,

SADC representatives,

Statistician-General, Pali Lehohla

Salga CEO, Xolile George,

Chairperson NHTL, Kgosi Pontsho Maubane

Chairperson Disaster Relief Fund Board, Chief Livhuwani Mutsila,

Head of the NDMC, Ken Terry,

Members of academia

Government officials,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

 

Good Morning,

 

It is my pleasure to join you today. Our thoughts, prayers and condolences go out to those killed, injured and displaced as a result of Hurricane Matthew. Over a 1000 people lost their lives in Haiti alone. In the US over three million people were forced to evacuate. While our scenarios as the southernmost tip of Africa are slightly different, the events of the past week are a timely reminder of the importance of our work and our deliberations today.

 

We meet just days before the UN Habitat 3 gathering, that sets out to determine the New Urban Agenda. The Draft Quito Declaration states that

 

“We envisage cities and human settlements that:

 

adopt and implement disaster risk reduction and management, reduce vulnerability, build resilience and responsiveness to natural and man-made hazards, and foster mitigation and adaptation to climate change;”

 

This reiterates the call by the UN Sustainable Development Goals, in particular Goal 11, which is to “Make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.”

 

One of the targets of Goal 11 is that:

“By 2020, substantially increase the number of cities and human settlements adopting and implementing integrated policies and plans towards inclusion, resource efficiency, mitigation and adaptation to climate change, resilience to disasters, and develop and implement, in line with the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030, holistic disaster risk management at all levels

 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

 

We are faced with one of the worst drought situations in many years, yet we take for granted the availability of clean water. Over 663 million people worldwide do not have access to clean water. The Department of Water and Sanitation indicates that the latest dam levels assessment, conducted on 26 September 2016, shows that water levels are down by 0.5% to 51.4%. Last year at the same time the dam levels were at 70.3%. The department says we may reach a level of 25% by 14 November 2016, should we fail to see a reduction in water use and consumption. Just yesterday the City of Tshwane informed residents of further water restrictions, including not watering parks, sports fields and traffic islands. This is a crisis waiting to happen. We believe the implementation of water restrictions is the first step to ensuring that the drought does not fuel a wider crisis.

 

As we commemorate the International Day of Disaster Risk Reduction, let us keep perspective of the challenges we face.

 

Over the last decade, the International Day of Disaster Risk Reduction has been used to focus on safer schools; keeping Hospitals Safe from Disasters; Urban risk reduction and Safer Cities; “Women and Girls are Powerful Agents of Change”; Living with Disability and Disasters; and the Elderly and disasters.

 

In 2015, IDDR was commemorated under the theme “Indigenous people and disasters,” which was aimed at recognizing the contribution of indigenous and local knowledge passed on from generation to generation. Knowledge that can be used to improve DRR efforts and ensure that the wealth of knowledge obtained thus, is preserved and integrated into our future DRR initiatives.

 

Distinguished guests,

 

“The Sendai Seven Campaign – 7 Targets, 7 Years”, was launched in July 2016 by the UNISDR (United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction) as an advocacy initiative to encourage implementation of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction. The goals included saving lives, reducing disaster losses and improving management of disaster risk. Risk awareness among the general public is a vital theme running through this seven-year campaign which is centred around the seven targets of the Sendai Framework of Action (2015-2030). These include substantial reductions in loss of life, numbers of people affected, economic losses and damage to infrastructure.

 

At the launch of the Sendai Seven Campaign – 7 Targets, 7 Years in Geneva, Dr Robert Glasser, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction, asserted that:

 

“Despite many successes there are still far too many lives being lost in predictable events because of failures to deploy early warning systems, learn lessons from past events and to grasp the growing threat of climate change and its impact on extreme weather events, including storms, floods and drought.”

 

 

 

South Africa cannot be excluded in making efforts to ensure that South Africans live in an environment that is not harmful to their health and well-being; that the environment is protected to prevent pollution and ecological degradation; where conservation is promoted; and ecologically sustainable development is secured. The Constitution makes provision for all of these aspects and South Africa enjoys the fruits of aligning itself with the global community through strategic partnerships.

 

A global agreement was adopted at the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. In that regard, South Africa also set its own targets with the recognition that climate change affects everyone and has the potential to unravel the massive development achievements of the young South African democracy, if prompt action is not taken.

 

It is anticipated that, the effects of climate change will worsen over time and the after, effects of the drought that was experienced in the last two years, can still be felt today, costing the state billions of rands. Would it be far-fetched to predict some losses of life as the impact of the climate change phenomena intensifies? Can we confidently say, we are ready for that time? Do we have the resources and capacity to make accurate predictions about “who” is dying, “where” they are dying, “how” they are dying and “what” is killing them?

 

Even though by comparison, loss of human life as a result of disasters in South Africa is still relatively low, there are occurrences in the country that tend to claim one life, too many. Though by definition, many of these occurrences are not necessarily disasters, we ought to address and quantify them, to ensure that we meet the global target of reducing disaster deaths by 2030. Statistics of road carnages over the festive seasons are forever on the rise despite the intense awareness campaigns undertaken by Department of Transport (DoT) and its partners; the number of foreign nationals that perish as a result of xenophobic/foreign nationals’ attacks is also a concern; our people dying over the winter season because of shack fires present a host of dynamics. How do we assist each other in ensuring that the status is turned around? Where do we align efforts to ensure that we minimize risk?

 

The legislative system of South Africa is by all means and at any level, highly competitive to provide the needed tools to effectively preserve human life and there is the added advantage of support from strategic partners such as the UN community with its resident entities that are here to ensure that South Africa achieves its economic and developmental goals, whilst also observing human rights practices.

 

Recognition of the marginalised society is also top on the agenda of the UN community and the implementation of the HFA through UNISDR bears testament to this. In implementing the HFA, South Africa learnt valuable lessons on the direct relationship between vulnerability and hazard risk in disaster risk reduction.

 

How then, do we improve the resilience of our communities especially the marginalised? How do we get them involved in decision making? Do we have women, children, older persons, people living with disabilities, and indigenous people advocating for their needs in DRR? Do we include them in key decision-making structures, thus informing policy formulation or review? Are they represented in our local councils, provincial legislatures or parliament? Are we communicating with them in a manner that will encourage behaviour change and build resilience? Are our local governments implementing the Ten Essentials of Disaster Risk Reduction to create a healthy and risk free living environment for communities? How do we involve the business sector to invest in DRR? How do we invest in our infrastructure to reduce economic losses? Are we able to bounce back after disasters?

 

As the leadership of the department, administering the Disaster Management Act 2002 (of South Africa) aligned to the constitution of the country, its policy framework (the National Disaster Management Framework 2005) and convening the focal point for disaster risk reduction in South Africa (the National Disaster Management Advisory Forum) and other related fora, we are fully convinced that the ideas that will be shared in the session can inform policy and operational improvements around disaster risk reduction measures to meet the Sendai Framework of Action’s seven targets.

 

We also hold the view that, the achievement of DRR objectives with strong local ownership will go a long way in strengthening our service delivery, poverty reduction and sustainable development programmes and targets, and contribute to the achievement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development which recognizes and reaffirms the urgent need to reduce the risk of disasters.

 

There are different provinces which embarked on developing and implementing risk reduction strategies such as development of early warning systems, implementation of lightning conductors; upgrading of road infrastructure; installation of smoke detectors to raise alarm on shack fires, rolling out of safer stoves, fire and burn prevention interventions and efforts of building back better in partnership with business and many more interventions implemented across the provinces. Additionally, more emphasis needs to be put on encouraging political commitment and economic investment to reduce risks through amongst others, public private partnerships during prevention and recovery processes, to reduce vulnerability and exposure of the poor and build the resilience of both people and infrastructure. Knowledge and awareness of natural hazards also has the potential to influence behavioural change on how people can best protect their lives, properties and livelihoods, thereby contributing to disaster resilience. The DCOG will through the international partnerships such as BRICS, prioritise initiatives agreed on to improve our capacity and capability in reducing disaster risks.

 

I wish you well in your deliberations and look forward to hearing your resolutions. Let us see this occasion as a lifesaving agenda for building resilience to natural and man-made hazards. Let us engage with emphasis on the fact that reducing disaster mortality is possible in all situations. Let us also highlight the essential contribution of disaster risk reduction and the effective implementation of the Sendai Framework of Action as part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and Paris Agreement on Climate Change, our National Development Plan, the 9 Point Plan to finally achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. We need to encourage and confirm that working in partnership with active civil society, business sector and communities is essential to achieving sustainable disaster risk reduction.

I thank you.