Disaster Management: hearings

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Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs

29 May 2006
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Meeting report

PROVINCIAL AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
30 May 2006
DISASTER MANAGEMENT: HEARINGS

Chairperson:
Mr S Tsenoli (ANC)

Documents handed out:
Department of Provincial and Local Government (DPLG): Municipalities and their State of Readiness
North West Province: State of Readiness
Free State Municipalities: State of Readiness
Gauteng Municipalities: Sate of Readiness

SUMMARY
The Committee’s hearings on disaster manager started with three presentations by the National Centre for Disaster Management, the Free State Province and the North West Province. The first presentation dealt with a general overview of the progress made by each province on disaster management as well as providing more details on budgets, staff, and resources that these provinces had. The presentations by the provinces built on the main presentation and highlighted relevant disasters, challenges and recommendations for their specific province.

Members felt a lack of political will to prioritise disaster management was evident and borne out by the fact that National Treasury did not release sufficient funding to deal with disaster management.

MINUTES
DPLG Centre for Disaster Management (CDM)
The Chairperson emphasised the importance of disaster management being given a high priority, hence the hearings.

Mr Lance Williams, CDM reiterated the Chairperson’s emphasis on disaster management as a high priority. He mentioned that his presentation would provide an overview of the progress made with regard to the disaster management capacity of the respective provinces.

He briefly outlined the Disaster Management Act (No. 57 of 2002). He pointed out that the original estimate of two years for total implementation of the Act was overly optimistic. The CDM focus was concerned primarily with prevention and mitigation of disasters. However the reality of implementation entailed creating a new field of expertise and capacitating local government, which was a more difficult task than anticipated.

Mr Williams’ presentation covered the Disaster Management Framework, with four key performance areas and three enablers. The main focus of his presentation was the progress made subsequent to the meeting held with MinMec in March 2005. The latter entailed a matrix overview of progress made in each province, at a national level and holistically through the provinces. A breakdown of staffing, budgets and resources for each province were also provided in his presentation. Provinces of concern were Mpumalanga and the Northern Cape. General progress across the provinces was also highlighted in the presentation. These included the bilateral agreement between Sweden and South Africa in terms of Swedish disaster management software at no cost; the regulation of disaster management volunteers and provisions for goods and services; discussions with National Treasury for better funding; and discussions with the Department of Social Development. The presentation looked at the current challenges and realities where two main factors, financial constraints and lack of sufficient and qualified personnel, were listed as impediments to faster progress. (See Documents for relevant detail)

Discussion

Mr M Lekgoro (ANC) asked if scientific mechanisms or estimates could be put in place to determine possible disasters that could be faced and whether the work that has been done will capacitate the respective local municipalities to deal with the challenges of these disasters.

Mr S Mashudulu (ANC) asked why, in certain areas, there was not much progress and when will progress be made in this respect given the constitutional obligation with regard to disaster management.

Mr I Mogase (ANC) asked whether the progress being made could be quantified and specifically placed in the form of percentages.

Ms L Mashiane (ANC) asked what criterion was used to measure performance in the North West.

The Chair suggested that this question be addressed by the North West’s presentation.

Mr Williams highlighted that potential and typical disasters would be addressed by the respective provinces’ presentations. He pointed out, however, that three key disasters gained specific attention because of their scale and magnitude. They included floods, droughts, and fires specifically in the Western Cape.

Mr Williams said the size of municipalities determined their capacity. It was unlikely that there would be comprehensive disaster management capabilities throughout; however these capabilities were essential. He also argued that standardised criteria to establish indicators for readiness had to be put in place. With regard to percentages and quantification, Mr Williams maintained that the difficulty lay in the variability of information received from the respective provinces, which refers back to the issue of standardisation.

Mr L Buys (DPLG Legal Services), with regard to the legal obligation, argued that without ambitious plans very little progress would have been made. He also highlighted that disaster management had not been prioritised in the past and that it had been overtly suggested that disaster management was not a national priority. He pleaded for the support of the Committee to get it onto the national priority list, especially with regards to the aid of National Treasury. He argued essentially for "strong political will" to prioritise disaster management.

Free State presentation
The Free State’s presentation highlighted the prevalent disasters occurring in the Free State, factors contributing to community and infrastructure vulnerability in the province, and the province’s most frequent disasters. It also looked at the state of the provincial Disaster Management Centre and looked more closely at the five district municipalities with the same matrix criterion used in Mr Williams’ presentation. Challenges and recommendations were also covered by the presentation. (See Documents for relevant detail)

Discussion

Mr Mashudulu argued that risk factors were linked to development. He highlighted that the issue of funds was one of the challenges that could be generalised. He asked what the role of universities could be in supplying resources and aid for disaster management. The biggest challenge was the establishment of a good research programme and dataset for disaster management. He also suggested that progress on disaster management be linked to performance contracts.

Mr Mogase asked who appointed the heads of the centres for disaster management.

Mr Lekgoro reiterated the point on skills and felt Universities should be steered in the direction of disaster management.

The representative of the Free State maintained that contingency plans were in place to address disasters and argued that in order for disaster management to be taken seriously, it should be incorporated into the performance management contracts.

The representative of the Free State also highlighted that the University of the Free State offered sh bnort courses and a Masters degree in disaster management. The University was also a member of the province’s disaster management forum; hence a close relationship existed with the institutions of higher learning. She highlighted that indigenous knowledge was also taken into consideration.

With regard to the appointment of the head of the centre the representative of the Free State maintained that a certain criterion had been considered for the appointment of heads. Finally she stressed the lack of funding and reiterated Mr Buys’ point on the need for political will in this respect.

North West presentation
Mr Watson-Tomas’ presentation highlighted the frequent disasters occurring in the province including contributing factors; the major disasters of the past five years in the province; most frequent disasters; and presented the matrix and staffing, budget and resource breakdown used in Mr Williams’ presentation with special focus on the North West. His presentation also included the current challenges and realities. An important point raised by Mr Watson-Tomas is the failure to understand disaster management funds as insurance and not a financial drain. (See Documents for relevant detail).

Discussion

Mr Mashudulu pointed out that any development must be environmentally sustainable. He asked how provinces could take advantage of Project Consolidate. He also reiterated the constitutional obligation for disaster management and the need for skilled heads of disaster management at the local level.

Ms Mashiane asked why people were still not compensated for the tornado and hail disasters of 2005 and 2004 respectively. She was also concerned about the identification of the relevant authority that manages this process.

Mr Mogase asked if informal settlements were a contributing factor to the severity of disasters.

Mr Watson-Tomas maintained that informal settlements were factored in when considering poverty and unemployment. He pointed out that compensation came from the Department of Social Development and not through the local government municipalities.


The Chairperson pointed out that there seems to be a lack of communication and co-operation between the departments. Essentially he asked whether co-operation existed and what the shortcomings were.

The North West argued that there is good co-operation at the provincial level; however at a national level communications problems arose.

The Free State representative highlighted that in the Free State disaster management operates under the cluster of Justice, Crime Prevention and Security where the relevant co-operation does take place. With regard to budgeting, she pointed out that each and every department in the Free State has to budget for disaster management. She also pointed out that in the provincial disaster management advisory forum there were representatives from each district municipality.

Mr Williams maintained that the co-operation between the three spheres of government is good but not optimal. With regard to communication, Mr Williams argued for quality and timely information shared between the three spheres of government in order for informed decisions to be made.

A Member raised concerns about the lack of awareness campaigns to inform vulnerable people, and especially in the case of recruitment of volunteers. He essentially argued for a "kick start" to mobilisation and operation of disaster management to assess risk and address urgent and imminent disaster issues.

Mr Mashudulu suggested that a questionnaire be sent to all municipalities. Negative responses should be addressed in Parliament.

The Chairperson suggested that each province provide a list of the districts or municipalities functioning under Project Consolidate for clarity.

The meeting was adjourned.








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