SA to reform disaster management

South Africa is to reform its disaster management system. Provincial and local government minister Sicelo Shiceka says the response time of the current structure is too slow.
Disaster management forms part of Shiceka remit. He made the comments after visiting flooded communities in the Northern Cape. He noted the province and many local authorities there have no disaster management plans.
His spokeswoman Vuyelwa Vika says the minister is seeking ways to shorten reaction times.
The country`s lack of preparedness for disasters is also highlighted in a University of Witwatersrand study released this week on last year`s outburst of xenophobic violence and the state response.
The report, commissioned by the South African office of the British charity Oxfam and conducted by the University of the Witwatersrand’s Forced Migration Studies Programme found that “civil violence” is likely to rise again, whether against foreign nationals or among South Africans – and that neither government nor civil society is ready to provide effective protection or relief.
The report, “Humanitarian Assistance to Internally Displaced Persons in South Africa: Lessons Learned Following Attacks on Foreign Nationals in May 2008“, says a lack of experience and established systems, an absence of government leadership, the fragmentation of civil society and confusion regarding the rights of foreigners were lowlights of the response to the pogrom.
The study found that the South African Disaster Management Act of 2002 and the Disaster Management Framework of 2004 were “relatively new and untested for such a case of large-scale displacement”.

The act and the framework focus on displacement by natural disasters and technology-related disasters – nuclear stations, aviation – but “do not specifically include planning for displacement and humanitarian needs caused by civic disturbances and violence”, the Cape Argus said in a report on the study.

While the Disaster Management system enabled local municipalities and provinces to declare and act upon localised disasters, there was no effective national co-ordination of response from government, leading to a lack of co-ordination between Gauteng and the Western Cape.

The two provinces were the worst affected by the violence in which 62 people died and more than 80 000 were displaced, the Business Day said in a preview of the report. 

This disconnect led to differences in response, waste of time and resources due to the duplication of structures and processes, and confusion regarding the rights of those displaced, the report said.

The study further highlighted that civil society was excluded from the regular consultative capacity in government disaster management structures. “As a result the two could not exchange information for early warning and neither had good information about each other’s mandates and modes of operation.”

It noted that there was confusion regarding the roles of the Department of Home Affairs and the UN High Commission for Refugees.

The department has no welfare provision capacity and generally restricts itself to interventions relating to documentation, said the report.

There were sensitivities about public perceptions of the response as government and civil society argued that if foreigners had received more assistance from the government, it would fuel violence or resentment of foreigners.

The study also warns that SA does not seem to have drawn crucial lessons from the crisis. The momentum and experience gained in the months following the May attacks appears already to be dissipating.
It adds the fledgling co-ordination structures that had developed between the government and civil society have collapsed, “returning the sector to a similar state of fragmentation as before the disaster”.
Regular forums and information-sharing websites are no longer active.
Vika could not immediately confirm if Shiceka, who was in the Northern Cape earlier this week and is currently visiting disaster area in KwaZulu-Natal had seen the report. 
Gauteng has invested heavily in disaster management, spending some R50 million in 2007 to establish a Provincial Disaster Management Centre as well as an Emergency Medical Control Centre, both located in Midrand.
Speaking at the two centre`s opening in November 2007 then-Premier Mbhazima Shilowa said the new hi-tech centres would save lives through better coordination and communication. He said they would “go a long way in reducing disasters from happening” and would play a “role in the preparation for and hosting of the FIFA Confederations Cup as well as the World Cup.
“Dealing with disaster is not about putting up a massive centre, but it is all about how the centre responds effectively to the challenges as and when they happen,” he said.

Future upgrade plans for the centres included transversal integration with the police 10111 centre and also with the national Department of Communications’ 112 emergency contact centre infrastructure when that is rolled out. The centres will, for now, be contactable through the existing 10177 number.