SA disaster management system overhaul coming

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Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs (PCCGTA) this week heard South Africa will overhaul its disaster management systems and legislation to improve response capabilities.

A year ago, the SA National Defence Force (SANDF), in the form of its Chief, General Rudzani Maphwanya, said a dedicated disaster response unit was in the offing. Speaking in Richards Bay ahead of Armed Forces Day, he said the national defence force could not continue using collateral assets, with the envisaged new unit having “dedicated resources”.

These would go primarily to Operation Chariot, the standing tasking for disaster support and humanitarian assistance.

Over the past few years, soldiers and other military personnel from, among others, the SA Army Engineer and Works formations as well as the SA Air Force (SAAF), have been part of bridge, road and community rebuilding in the wake of floods, with helicopters delivering food, medical supplies and SA Military Health Service (SAMHS) personnel to stranded communities.

There has, as far as can be ascertained to date, been no on the ground development of the specialist unit Maphwanya envisaged in the light of natural disasters becoming the “new normal” due to climate change.

National Disaster Management Centre (NDMC) Deputy Director-General Dr Elias Sithole this week told the portfolio committee an overhaul would better South Africa’s readiness for responding to disasters such as droughts, fires and floods. These phenomena, according to him, are brought on by climate change.

The NDMC has completed a set of key indicative risk profiles for South Africa’s major hazards – drought, floods, fires and windstorms – and allowed national access to this to guide contingency planning. The NDMC is improving co-operation and dialogue with key stakeholders by way of updating its portfolio of agreements.

“For example, the NDMC and SA Weather Service (SAWS) signed a new agreement with costs that allows for the development of new data products that monitor climate variability and change impacts. These agreements provide an advance to core business objectives of the NDMC in terms of early warnings,” Sithole is reported as saying in a Parliamentary Communication Service statement.

Agreements are in place with partners such as Lesotho, the UN Office of Outer Space Affairs, the UNESCO Indian Ocean Tsunami Warning and Mitigation System and the International Charter for Space and Major Disasters.

Since 2022, the NDMC has developed the national disaster management research agenda to streamline the disaster risk management research to address existing gaps and inform policies.

“When disasters happen, we often see NGOs (non-government organisations) on the scene first. Municipalities and other state agencies arrive late. The question is, why take so long to respond? Through the review process and overhaul of the disaster management system we want to close the gaps and improve response capabilities,” he said.