oa South African Health Review - Disaster management : chapter 24

Volume 2000, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 1025-1715



Disasters (events usually characterised by negative human impact and exceptional demands for intervention) are inevitable. Impact can be substantially reduced by adequate preparation, early warning, and swift, decisive responses. Disaster Management encompasses all aspects of planning for and responding to disasters. It applies to management of both risks and consequences of disasters. Disasters need to be declared to secure the release of government resources for intervention. Disasters are not entirely unpredictable. Floods occur in valleys, droughts occur in areas with unstable and low rainfall, and oil spills occur in shipping lanes. This predictability provides opportunities to prevent and to mitigate the impact of disasters. Governments are key players in such prevention and mitigation. They exercise this role through legislation, through resource allocation and through rational planning and sustainable development. The capacity of civil society and NGO's, particularly at local level, play a significant role in mitigation of impact. In South Africa, a White Paper on Disaster Management has been published. Its strength lies in a thoroughly modern and developmental approach with a focus on risk reduction, creation of permanent management structures, and delineation of accountability and responsibility. However, there is a lack of recognition of what is feasible. The White Paper makes incorrect assumptions around capacity of local level government and local civic organisations. Therefore the draft billpoints to the ideal but fails to accommodate the reality of limited peripheral capacity, particularly in rural areas which are most vulnerable. The local shortcomings were all-too-apparent in the 2000 floods in South Africa. Lessons were learnt and recommendations made which highlight the mismatch between policy and operational capacity and which offer suggestions for more appropriate and rapid responses during future disasters.

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