Address by the Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Dr Zweli Mkhize, at the celebration of the International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction (IDDR), Dawid Kruiper Local Municipality, Upington, Northern Cape, 16 November 2018
Premier of the Northern Cape, Ms Sylvia Lucas
MEC for Cooperative Governance, Human Settlements and Traditional Affairs, Mr Bentley Vass,
Executive Mayors, Mayors and Councillors
Chairperson Disaster Relief Fund Board, Chief Livhuwani Mutsila,
The Head of the National Disaster Management Centre, Dr Mmaphaka Tau and all senior officials present,
Members of academia and all stakeholders present,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Good Morning to you all!
We are gathered here today to mark and celebrate the International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction (IDDRR) 2018. This is an important day as it celebrates how people and communities around the world are reducing their exposure to disasters.
The theme for the IDDRR 2018 is Reducing Disaster Economic Losses with a focus on investing in disaster risk reduction for resilience. The celebration of the IDDRR is held annually as per Resolution 64/2000 of the United Nations General Assembly. Let me convey our appreciation to the Northern Cape Provincial government for partnering with us in hosting this important event.
Disasters continue to wreak havoc throughout the world. In March this year, such as Tropical Storm “Eliakim” in Madagascar and a major earthquake in Indonesia, which was followed by a localised Tsunami which damaged critical infrastructure and sadly led to the deaths of over 2000 people.
The Southern African region is already experiencing changes in climate such as higher temperatures, changing rainfall patterns, and varying frequencies of natural hazard events. Natural hazards and climate change extremes pose a significant development challenge to the region. A single disaster event has the potential to erode many years of economic development gains by damaging critical infrastructure and by diverting resources away from development spending, such as health and education services, toward disaster response and reconstruction efforts.
Disaster risk reduction (DRR), resilience building and promoting sustainable development are key to achieving a number of goals.
DRR improves the management of human settlements and promotes sustainable land use land-use planning and management. It promotes the integrated provision of environmental infrastructure such as water, sanitation, drainage and solid waste management. It promotes sustainable energy and transport systems in human settlements. It promotes sustainable construction industry activities and promotes human resource development and capacity-building. That is why disaster risk reduction is important for our country and also why we are gathered here today!
South Africa, like other countries in the region, is vulnerable to a number of natural hazards. Drought has become a normal feature of the South African climate. Drought occurrence, which is compounded by climate change, occurs with varying intensity in several parts of the country with severe, pervasive and devastating social, environmental, and economic impacts.
This year’s IDDRR anniversary is hosted at a time when most parts of our country are recovering from one of the worst droughts that South Africa has ever witnessed, which affected the Western Cape, Eastern Cape and Northern Cape provinces immensely. Provincial states of disaster were declared in terms of the Disaster Management Act, 2002. The drought affected agricultural production negatively and was driven by declining meteorological conditions, which were recorded to be the lowest since 1926.
Our host, the Northern Cape, has been exposed to severe drought conditions that reached disaster proportions. About 24 million hectares of land was affected, with a carrying capacity of about seven hundred thousand large stock units.
The drought conditions in this province significantly affected three of the five district municipalities namely John Taolo Gaetsewe, Frances Baard and parts of Namakwa.
Government through the National Disaster Management Centre (NDMC) provided drought relief to the affected areas in the form of disaster grant funding.
The drought situation has improved in many provinces due to the winter and early summer rainfalls and due to government interventions. We are confident that these interventions brought relief and contribute to building resilience in the affected sectors and communities.
Given the improvements, in June this year I announced that as the Minister responsible for disaster management I had decided not renew the national state of disaster when it lapsed due to the progress made since the declaration earlier this year. However, the existing classification of a national disaster remains in force and the national government remains responsible for the coordination of the drought interventions listed above under the auspices of the Inter-Ministerial Task Team (IMTT) on drought and water scarcity.
In fact, we are concerned about the continued prevalence of drought in some parts of the three Cape provinces (Northern, Eastern and Western Cape).
Drought in the Northern Cape has since been worsened by an exponential increase in invader plant populations, which outcompetes the population and native vegetation for water. The high proportions of Prosopisinvader plant species with its deep root systems and high water consumption deplete the groundwater table with a potential to cause land degradation and ultimately, desertification. An exponential increase in invader plant densities necessitates coordinated and multi-sectoral interventions.
The National Treasury allocated a total of R3.2 billion to deal with the effects of drought and water scarcity and R1.6 billion to deal with the effects of storms and fires.
The funding will also strengthen mitigation measures in the face of the current weather outlook which points to the possible occurrence of an El Nino phenomenon during the 2018/19 summer season through to the winter rainfall season.
These allocations will assist affected communities in KZN, the Western Cape and the Eastern Cape with drought relief. The damage caused during the drought exceeded their capacity to deal with damages using their own resources.
The Minister of Finance had indicated in the budget speech in February this year that he had set aside a provisional allocation of R6 billion in 2018/19 for several purposes, including drought relief and to augment public infrastructure investment. The disbursement of this allocation for drought will be led by the Inter-Ministerial Task Team on Drought and Water Scarcity chaired by COGTA, and will be available from January 2019.
This Post-Disaster Recovery Funding has been allocated through the Medium Term Expenditure Framework i.e. 2018/19 which will be accessed within in-year and 2019/2020 and 2020/21 respectively. The R1.62 billion will be used for municipal infrastructure such as hospitals, schools and human settlements in KZN and the Western Cape.
During these conditions of drought, veldfires pose a major hazard to human lives, livelihoods and ecosystem, property and fire-sensitive natural resources in our country and resource poor communities remain amongst the most vulnerable.
Similar to drought, veldfires are a natural and inescapable feature of the ecological landscape of South Africa. Research has revealed that unplanned urbanisation, the growing rural-urban interface, globally referred to as the Wildland Urban Interface are some of the factors magnifying veldfire risks. They expose more people to fires including highly vulnerable communities in informal settlements.
In the past few weeks, the Garden Route District Municipalities were ravaged by devastating veldfires of unprecedented magnitude and ten people tragically lost their lives as a result of this fire, eight family members near Knysna on the Garden Route, one Working on Fire Pilot and one Working on Fire firefighter following a vehicle accident.
We extend our deepest condolences again to the affected families. Nothing can be more painful than losing a loved one.
The Western Cape veldfires affected a total of 96 000 hectares around George and 6 000 hectares in the Eastern Cape, in the Tsitsikama area. Mopping up operations are still underway.
Although the total cost of damages is still undetermined at this stage as assessments are currently underway, significant damage has been recorded in the Forestry and Conservation sector. I wish to applaud the heroic efforts of our firefighters, emergency medical services personnel, police officials, SANDF personnel and all who braved difficult and dangerous conditions to mitigate the effects of these disastrous veldfires.
The number of resources used to fight the Southern Cape fire included the following:
- About 350 Firefighters from district municipalities, local municipalities, George Airport, Forestry Companies and SANPARKS were involved in the firefighting.
- Thirty-nine vehicles
- Six spotters from the Working on Fire programme
- Five helicopters from Working on Fire and the South African Airforce and
- Three bombers from the Working on Fire programme.
Let me also take this opportunity to pay homage to the three brave firefighters who lost their lives while battling the Bank of Lisbon fires in Central Johannesburg during August 2018. They will always be remembered as heroes who risked their lives to save their fellow beings. Our emergency personnel go towards danger while others run away, and we salute all of them nationwide.
The ability to save lives and reduce the impact of disasters depends on the preventative steps we take long before disaster strikes.
As we mark the International Day of Disaster Risk Reduction, we should be mindful of the need to do everything we can to reduce exposure to hazards, lessen the vulnerability of people and property and manage land and the environment wisely.
We should also improve preparedness and early warning systems for adverse events. Achieving disaster risk reduction and increased resilience requires increased collaboration across governments and key stakeholders.
We need to generate and make a more effective use of scientific data and information, identify knowledge, use indigenous knowledge and capacity gaps and co-produce solutions that can effectively support decisions and actions towards resilience building.
Education and public awareness programmes also go a long way in ensuring that all communities understand the different disaster risk factors and scenarios and are able to apply preventative measures. Very soon we will move into the difficult season of lightning strikes in some provinces such as Limpopo and KZN.
Educational messages are important to ensure that people undertake safety measures and avoid sitting under trees and other activities that put them at risk and also to understand the causes. Around the December-January period some parts of the country are also prone to heavy floods which we should be ready for and prevent disasters that may cause enormous damage including loss of life. The annual flooding along the Jukskei River in Alexandra, Johannesburg poses the question of what we should be doing to ensure that it does not recur.
Some work has been done to prevent flooding from the Orange Rive as part of disaster risk prevention. Severe flooding from the Orange rivers due to wide catchment in several provinces occurred in 2011. To mitigate the situation then, flood diversion walls were erected but these were damaged by the last huge flood and R1,1 billion was allocated by government to repair. The project commenced in 2012 and was completed in August 2018, spanning a period of seven years.
It is clear as well that we need to institutionalize and mainstream disaster management and disaster risk reduction within organs of state. It must form part of the planning of every institution.
Workplace environment safety is also key in this planning and disaster risk prevention and reduction. At the national government level, it has been established that some buildings housing government departments are in a serious state of dilapidation and pose a risk to life and limb.
All government departments and municipalities must ensure that the minimum safety standards are observed in all their buildings as the first line of defence against disaster. Let us not lose our people through disasters that can be prevented.
COGTA’s National Disaster Management Centre has, through the Fire Safety and Prevention Strategy been supporting municipalities by strengthening their firefighting capacity through training and provision of equipment. It is important for each municipality to strengthen its bylaws on health and safety compliance of the buildings in their areas of jurisdiction in the town and cities. We urge municipalities to ensure that their health and safety inspectors inspect all the municipal and government buildings for safety compliance, as one of the key aspect in their risk management strategy and reflect this aspect in their reports. Fire inspectors should ensure that buildings comply with regard to health and safety standards.
The role of the political and administrative leadership in this forum and across the country is to ensure that proper planning in undertaken. The national government has in the year 2016 adopted the Integrated Urban Development Framework (IUDF) which guides among others, the consideration of in-migration as a central phenomenon.
The IUDF presents a significant opportunity for disaster management to work with local organs of state to increase the resilience of urban communities, particularly in the management of urbanisation. Cities are increasingly expected to take concrete actions to adapt to risks associated with rising sea levels, floods, droughts and other natural hazards that are exacerbated by climate change and climate variability such as desertification.
Reducing the risk of disasters helps to protect development investments and enables societies to accumulate wealth, in spite of the hazards they face. Given that disaster management must form part of the integrated development plan of a municipality, the requirement to integrate spatial planning with urban resilience is additionally ensured through this programme.
South African cities are also economically lucrative places for both local and international migrants. The rapid urbanization and population growth are combining to create enormous new challenges and we need to reflect on whether or not we have adequate fiscal and human resources to deal with the hazards brought by rapid urbanization.
Also creating a huge challenge currently is the ageing municipal infrastructure. We have an untenable situation where sewage is spilling over into residential areas in Mpumalanga and Gauteng provinces and others, and also sewage infecting rivers such as the Vaal River in Emfuleni municipality causing huge environmental and health hazards. We are now prioritizing the refurbishment and building of new municipal infrastructure to mitigate and avoid such risks.
Furthermore, the Spatial Planning and Land Use Management Act of 2013 (SPLUMA) has been adopted by the country, which gives essential guidance on how municipal spaces must be designed.
The sector held the SADC Regional Disaster Risk Reduction conference in March in Pretoria this year and in September the Disaster Management Institute of Southern Africa conference took place. Both conferences dealt with the strategies of reducing disaster risks in the country. The SADC conference also dealt with the need to include the incorporation of gender-based approaches into all our strategies and programmes. We need to ensure the implementation of undertakings made at these meetings.
The Sendai Framework for Disaster risk reduction presents some lessons from the Hyogo Framework for Action 2005-2006. It lists among others, that it is “urgent and critical to anticipate, plan for and reduce disaster risks in order to more effectively protect persons, communities and countries, their livelihoods, health, cultural heritage, socio-economic assets and ecosystems and thus strengthen their resilience”.
Working together, let us reduce the exposure to disasters and improve our response mechanisms in order to protect life and limb and also protect the economy of our country.
I thank you!
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