It is an honour for South Africa to host this 5th meeting of the Joint Task Force (JTF) on Disaster Management on a hybrid platform as the member states and the global community continue to deal on the one hand with a myriad of disaster incidents and on the other, socio-economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is indeed a wonderful feeling to gather physically on the South African shores, considering that the remnants of the COVID-19 pandemic compelled Member States to meet virtually on 23 September last year, in Beijing, China. While the advancement and availability of technology made virtual participation in meetings possible, we can never underestimate the value and importance of physical interaction.
In addition to the known risks that we continually strive to mitigate, we are beset with widespreadadverse effects and related losses and damages to nature and people of natural climate variability, human-induced climate change, and more frequent and intense extreme events.. While BRICS countries and the world at large might be working tirelessly on developments and adaptation efforts to reduce vulnerabilities, the rise in weather and climate extremes are leading to some irreversible impacts as natural and human systems are pushed beyond their ability to adapt.
Over the past 1-2 years, the world was confronted with the real test of a global pandemic, which required extreme adjustments in all spheres of governance. As anticipated, the impact of COVID-19 disrupted the pace and all forms of development. All over the world, life as we know it, unraveled faster than we could ever have imagined. The realities of curbing the pandemic taught and compelled us to recognise that the nature of risk in our society has changed dramatically. This pandemic is a stark reminder that any recovery that fails to address the causes of our present vulnerabilities condemns us to more acute crises in the future, that may be difficult to bounce back from. To this effect and particularly at a global level, the recognition and acceleration of efforts towards mainstreaming disaster risk reduction (DRR) into planning across all sectors is an absolute necessity.
Our priorities as South Africa are very much aligned with the priorities for the 2023 BRICS summit and include: (i) Strengthening Post-Pandemic Socio-Economic Recovery and the Attainment of the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development; and (ii) Transforming Education and Skills Development for the Future and Strengthening Post-Pandemic Socio-Economic Recovery and the Attainment of the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development. As the Head of the National Disaster Mnaagment Centre, Dr Sithole has already alluded to, these themes also find traction in the Priorities and Targets of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (SFDRR) with the main goal being to “prevent new and reduce existing disaster risks”. Both priorities and the goal of SFDRR, effectively place the mainstreaming of disaster risk reduction (DRR) at the top of governance and administration agendas. As such, efforts should be made to reduce the vulnerability of communities, as well as promote the sustainability of our hard hit economies.
COVID-19 has highlighted the systemic nature of disaster risks. Reducing the risks of disasters therefore cannot be divided into categories that are only assigned to limited sectors such health authorities, disaster management agencies or early warning centres. Both priorities illustrate the fact that Disaster Risk Reduction solutions are needed across sectors such as education, water, sanitation and hygiene; health and nutrition; livelihoods; child and social protection; property, shelter and housing; public open spaces, natural resources and ecosystems, and critical infrastructure that is vital for delivery of all these services.
It is worth making this meeting aware that the President of the Republic of South Africa, President Cyril Ramaphosa, launched the South African Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan in 2021/2022, to identify and ameliorate priority areas to focus on as a country, in the quest to speedily address the effects of Covid-19 pandemic. The Plan puts emphasis on the need for social partners to work on substantial structural change in the economy that would unlock growth and allow for development across all sectors. It should be our government’s joint convictions to massively mobilise all our resources and efforts in economic activities that will put the country’s economy in a sustainable recovery trajectory.
South Africa also boasts a robust disaster management legislation, the Disaster Management Act 57 of 2002 that provides for an enabling framework to deal with any disaster in the country. In as much as the Disaster Management Act proved to be a powerful legislative instrument to manage the COVID-19 pandemic through regulatory measures across all sectors, it must also be used to build resilience and instil the principles of risk reduction across all sectors. This Act puts responsibility on all organs of state to develop and implement credible disaster management plans, that are informed by detailed risk assessments. I want to encourage all sectors in this room and beyond, to take heed of this important call in the Disaster Management Act and comply accordingly. This will strengthen the country’s measures to reduce our country’s vulnerabilities against the adverse effects of disaster events, and steer all of us towards resilience building.
My message to you all is that in adversity often comes opportunity. On the threshold of an important opportunity to imagine, and with a unity of purpose, BRICS member states are urged to utilize this opportunity to work together to reshape their economic landscapes. Let us jointly emerge out of this meeting with the same objective of utilising the opportunity to build inclusive economies that will benefit all BRICS member states. This kind of attitude aligns with our responsibility to come out of these meetings with a Joint Action Plan that will strengthen the implementation of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 (SFDRR), the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
My department under the leadership of Minister Thembi Nkadimeng, is looking forward to the robust engagements and sharing of good practices on the two priorities I have alluded to and which are translated into the two main themes of today’s discussions..
I am confident that our BRICS collaboration can lay a solid foundation for advocacy and action orientated programmes that will promote the (i) understanding of disaster risk; (ii) strengthening disaster risk governance; (iii) investing in disaster risk reduction for resilience and (iv) enhancing disaster preparedness for effective response, and to “Build Back Better” in recovery, rehabilitation and reconstruction across the BRICS block. Going forward, we must measure our disasters not in loss of lives or infrastructure but rather in lives saved as well as the social and economic losses avoided. Ours must be a data and information driven response which is faster and more effective. Our strategies must be adaptive and effective to respond to multiple hazards or disasters and should entrench an early warning system.
Let us collectively take the opportunity to look ahead and reflect on how global risk is in fact changing to provide us with the appropriate levels of insight to review our programmes where required to deal with this change.
I THANK YOU!