Keynote Address delivered by Deputy Minister Thembi Nkadimeng on behalf of Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma,
Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs at the International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction
13 October 2022
Our co-hosts the MEC for Local Government, Environmental Affairs and Development Planning and Your Worship Mr Geordin Hill Lewis the Mayor for the City of Cape Town,
Chairperson for the National House of Traditional and Khoisan Leaders, iNkosikazi Nosandi Mhlauli,
Deputy Minister for Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Ms Thembi Nkadimeng,
Members of Parliament and the Provincial Legislatures,
Deputy Ministers and Senior government Officials
Representatives of the United Nations and all the diplomatic corps,
Directors General, Heads of Departments and Senior officials,
Ladies and gentlemen.
Allow me to first and foremost extend our heartfelt gratitude to all of you for having availed yourselves to join us in the celebrations of the International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction. We mark this day world-wide on the 13th of October. It is noteworthy that these celebrations occur three days before World Food Day and four days before International Poverty Day. Food security, poverty, and inequality are the greatest challenges confronting humanity which also have causal relations with calamities and disasters.
It is also significant that this year’s celebrations are hosted in Cape Town as this place is known as //Hui !Gaeb by the Khoikhoi who are native to this land. The name loosely translated means to envelop or bind denoting a ‘veiled cloud’. This is synonymous to the cape which was worn by the Europeans at the turn of the last century. Because of the stormy weather here, it was Bartolomeu Dias, in 1487, who translated the native name and called it Cabo Tomentosa — the Cape of Storms. It was to be later changed to the Kaap de Goede Hoop or Cape of Good Hope. Only to be changed by the early settlers to Cape Town.
I share this detail to display our shared history as well as relevance of history and names. In that history and in our futures, Cape Town, and the Western Cape in particular faces potentially adverse weather conditions, which will see the west of our country drying up further with increased storms in the southern most strips. This means in our not-so-distant future we are likely to have more veld and urban fringe fires, and severe winds in the West.
In the East we are likely to have more rainstorms and flash-floods. All of these are likely to be punctuated by droughts, which could lead to food insecurity, greater hunger, poverty, inequality, and unemployment, unless radical prevention and mitigation steps are immediately taken.
These adverse conditions are, in part, due to climate change and environmental degradation caused by the human species. The unabated greed and the dominant economic ideology have led to an unprecedented, unnecessary, and uneven accumulation of wealth by a few. Such that the World Bank’s Changing Wealth of Nations Report observes that although global wealth is growing, over a third of low-income countries saw a declining wealth per capita and most saw stagnated growth. The report further concludes that “unfortunately, inequality between countries persists” with “low-income countries’ share of global wealth… remaining below 1 percent despite being home to about 8 percent of the world’s population”.
This unabated greed has led to untold misery to millions with Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) reporting that in 2021, nearly 60 million were displaced from their home because of conflict and natural disasters. Africa had the highest number of internally displaced people, which include the 5 million in Ethiopia who are in the grip of a severe drought and conflict. Included in this figure are also the 5.3 million in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), who have been living in areas of perpetual conflict.
The World Bank Report also attempts to provide a tally on the global effects of the largest disaster to capture humanity in over 100 years — the Covid-19 pandemic. It concludes that these effects are “still unknown” but “low-income countries are likely to experience the most severe impacts, with a projected loss of 14% of total human capital”. This will be in addition to the 6 million citizens who are lost annually due to premature deaths because of pollution. Yet low-income countries account for less than 1% of global C02 emissions.
Consequently, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Reduction recognises social and economic justice as cardinal to preventing and mitigating disasters. The Framework, which currently at its midpoint of implementation, was adopted in Japan on the 18th of March 2015. It seeks to achieve the substantial reduction of disaster risk and losses in lives, livelihoods, and health as well as in the economic, physical, social, cultural, and environmental assets of people, businesses, communities, and countries by 2030. Critical to attaining these is “substantially increasing the availability of and access to multi-hazard early warning systems and disaster risk information and assessments to the people by 2030”.
We therefore intend that today’s commemoration should take stock of the progress we have recorded in relation to the seven targets, in particular the indicators related to the early warning system.
These early warning systems save lives. Therefore, they must involve the people and cover multiple man made and natural hazards. In the African context these systems must also be based on Indigenous Knowledge Systems (IKS), which are rich in scientific veracity.
These systems have been used by communities to forecast the weather and climate, since time immemorial. They made precolonial indigenous communities more resilient and sustainable. Some of these practices are still practised and they remain the most accessible and affordable sources for weather and climate information.
Programme Director, unfortunately, the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR), reports that only 40% of people are covered by Africa’s modern Early Warning Systems. I am also certain that the 40% who are ‘covered’ do not know that they are covered. Most of them also do not know what their course of action should be in the event of a disaster.
We can draw lessons from neighbouring and island states such as Mauritius which sits close to the edges of the African Tectonic Plate and is thus accustomed to periodic tropical cyclones and major earthquakes. In that country, the people are at the centre of disaster management and the reduction of damages. There adverse weather conditions or potential hazards are announced in all media platforms long before they occur. This enables the citizens and residents to prepare and move away from harm’s way long before time. The citizens and residents are also equipped with the reaction knowledge should the adverse conditions persist. So simple things as in where to go, whether to open a window or not, and what to store is given all the time, making the citizens battle ready. An early warning system can only be useful if it saves lives and livelihoods. Such knowledge and activism, simultaneously, frees scarce disaster management resources which can be targeted and complement the citizen’s actions in in safeguarding lives and assets.
Our current disaster management system lacks this citizen involvement and action. We must therefore strive for what the UN calls “end to end and people centred systems”. These will prevent and mitigate disasters whilst building a more sustainable, resilient, and equitable future. This will require that we pre-identify communication protocols and utilise multiple dissemination platforms to reach all intended audiences. These must include social media tools, climate forecast and modelling systems and the improved accuracy in which warnings systems can notify communities.
The Covid-19 pandemic has given us the training ground for this. The response was multi sectoral and seamlessly included all spheres of governance. We were also able to enlist the voluntary services of all media channels, both formal and informal such that immediately after the famous ‘family meeting’ no South African was in the dark about the status and course of action with regards the pandemic.
Programme Director, the infusion of Indigenous Knowledge Systems (IKS), community activism and accessible messaging into our Disaster Management systems will make our early warning system completer and more effective. But it is also important that we take preventative measures to minimise losses in the event of a disaster. The recent floods in KZN and in other parts of our country have taught us this. Because the storm drains were not cleared and properly maintained the damage was far greater than it should have been. Because of apartheid spatial planning patterns and ongoing urban migration trends, people settled on flood plains. Unfortunately, the capacity of the municipalities to track, advise and manage this was limited in the relevant planning and disaster management institutions in the provinces and municipalities.
In building back better and in ensuring more resilient infrastructure and human settlements, we must transform and reverse some of these historic tendencies and paradigms. This will require added proactive and responsive capacities at all levels, spheres, and sectors. We must deepen the work undertaken by the National Disaster Management Centre (NDMC) and the South African Weather Services, in the Impact Based Model for early warnings (IBEWS). This new system shifts from the historical paradigm of forecasts and warnings of meteorological thresholds, which only inform us what the weather will be. We are now able to add to that “Impact Warnings “which tell us what the weather will do to our people, infrastructure, environment, and economy, amongst others.
To complement this, we are convening the multi-stakeholder Disaster Management Advisory Forum on a quarterly basis as this is a critical cog in our early warning and responsive systems. This ought to be replicated in all the spheres of governance. We must also pay particular attention to resourcing the local sphere of government as well as the local institution for traditional leadership.
Programme Director, the importance of having early warning systems in place cannot be overstated, ladies and gentlemen, as early warning saves lives. A 24-hour heads-up can reduce the resulting damage by 30%, it can also save lives and livelihoods as well as reduce economic losses. Nothing has brought to the fore these facts as did the Covid-19 pandemic as well as the recent floods that affected communities in various provinces. These occurrences have tested our ability to manage convergent disasters with our current response systems.
To beef up our capacity to do this we will collaborate with the BRICS Joint Task Force for Disaster Management, which is building predictive and responsive capacities, in member states. We also have commitments from the BRICS members to assist us and Africa with the Great Green Wall Project, which is an Agenda 2063 programme to reforest the desert areas of the continent. For our part and to combat climate change, as well as hunger we intend to facilitate for the planting of 1 million fruit trees, in households and settlements within the next five years.
In that BRICS partnership we have thus far emphasised the need to root our collaborations in people to people exchanges. This will ensure that our anticipated modernised systems render maximum impact.
It is also our hope that the conversations we will have today, find root amongst the people, for it is them that can drive the step change we desire. Without the people and the associated disaster risk prevention and mitigation strategies we can never realise resilient, prosperous, connected, cohesive, non-sexist, non-racist and climate smart communities. This year’s International Day for Disaster Reduction ought to be the torch bearer in that direction.
I wish you the best in your deliberations and look forward to the adoption of a national action plan (logical framework) to track and monitor implementation of programmes and initiatives linked to the theme of this year’s commemoration.
I thank you.