Disaster Management Readiness: Gauteng and Western Cape: hearings

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Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs

30 May 2006
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Meeting report

PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE ON PROVINCIAL AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT

PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE ON PROVINCIAL AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT
31 May 2006
DISASTER MANAGEMENT READINESS: GAUTENG AND WESTERN CAPE: HEARINGS

Acting Chairperson:
Mr M Lekgoro (ANC)

Documents handed out:
Gauteng presentation on state of readiness
Western Cape presentation on state of readiness

SUMMARY
Gauteng and the Western Cape provinces briefed the Committee on their readiness to deal with disaster management. The presentations detailed progress, staffing, budgets and resources, and current challenges and recommendations. The Committee requested more clarity on the definition of disaster in the Disaster Management Act, the need to prioritise disaster management in all relevant provincial departments and the need to focus on daily disasters and disaster prevention specifically related to informal settlements.

MINUTES
Presentation by Gauteng

The representative of Gauteng Province, Mr Deiner presented an overview of Gauteng’s prevalent disasters and significant antecedents. His presentation also looked at the major events classified as disasters from 2000 to 2005 and the most frequent disasters. Similar to the presentations by the other provinces on 30 May 2006, Mr Deiner’s presentation consisted of a matrix overview of the readiness of the centre for disaster management in Gauteng in general and the various municipalities specifically. A breakdown of staffing, budget and resources were also highlighted as well as the current challenges faced by the centre and the relevant recommendations for better functioning of the centre. (See documents for relevant detail.)

As a supplement to Mr Deiner’s presentation, Mr R Motubatse highlighted some of the issues around areas resorting under Project Consolidate. In terms of the way Project Consolidate was conceptualised nationally, he maintained that there was no consideration for disaster management. The focus was mainly on social and institutional development. After evaluating the state of readiness overview across the country it was felt that fire services in particular should be considered as part of Project Consolidate. Mr Motubatse maintained that in Gauteng only five municipalities were involved in Project Consolidate. He also expressed concern for the urgency of prioritising disaster management across the three spheres of government.

Discussion

Mr M Nonkonyana (ANC) argued that it was unclear whether Gauteng has applied the Disaster Management Act, and asked for more clarity on this. He also asked whether indigenous knowledge systems were applied or considered given the urban nature of the Gauteng Province. Thirdly he asked what measures had been taken with regard to disaster prevention especially in Johannesburg’s Central Business District (CBD). A fourth issue raised by Mr Nonkonyana was the issue of personnel demographics that were not made clear in the presentation. Finally he was concerned that there might be an "urban bias" in Gauteng.

Mr S Mashudulu (ANC), referring to Section 7 of the Disaster Management Act, argued that the Act should form part of conditions of employment. He stressed concern about potential disasters in Orange Farm in Gauteng, and argued that it was unacceptable that there was a lack of funds in dealing with or putting in place preventative measures. He maintained that there was a constitutional obligation to make disaster management a priority. He proposed that within three months, the Committee should personally evaluate the progress on and delivery of disaster management services. He stressed that priority must be given to preserving human life. Finally, he argued that existing Integrated Development Plans (IDPs) had to take into account disaster management.

Mr W Dorman (DA) asked for more information on chemical transportation and infrastructure related to the risk involved in chemical transportation. With regard to staffing and the budget, he pointed out that the presentation implied that staffing was inadequate; however, the measure of the need for staff was not indicated. Thirdly with regard to IDPs, he asked if provincial and national level recommendations could provide a solution. Lastly, he enquired about damage payments and whether a disaster has to be declared in order for these payments to be provided.

Mr Mashudulu raised an additional question with regard to the definition of disaster alluding to the fact that anything that threatens human life should be considered as a disaster. With regard to Project Consolidate, he was not satisfied with the fact that Project Consolidate did not take into account provisions for disaster management.

The Chairperson asked if it was possible to "nationalise" technologies developed for specific provinces in order to save on the process of developing new technologies for each province. He was also surprised that Johannesburg was not ready with regard to disaster management as it should have been a leader in disaster management. He thus asked if there were any measures being taken to speed up the city’s readiness.

On the Disaster Management Act, Mr Deiner argued that the Act played a central role as the basis for the development of the Disaster Management program in Gauteng. In terms of indigenous knowledge, he argue that it was not that prevalent in an urban setting; however Wits University had been working on the integration of indigenous knowledge in informing disaster management in Gauteng. With regard to prevention of disasters, Mr Deiner said there had been a risk analysis of potential disasters and consideration of how to respond to the relevant disaster. To address the question about the personnel demographics, he provided information confirming that two deputy directors in their department were black males. Two black females, one coloured female, one black male, one white male, and one white female filled the assistant director positions. With regard to IDPs and disaster prevention, he argued that it was not just the disaster management centre that was not performing adequately with regard to this but across departments there was a failure to look at risk assessments. He thus maintained that it has been a central mission for disaster management to ensure that each department prioritised disaster management and risk factors.

With regard to the problem of Gauteng rivers, Mr Deiner maintained that modelling software is being developed to monitor catchment areas and the water levels of rivers to provide early warning of floods. As far as capacity to carry out disaster risk assessment, he argued that it was a very technical process, which required experts. With regard to chemical transportation, Mr Deiner highlighted that most of the incidents were road related i.e. road accidents, and gas vapour propagation. He also highlighted that informal settlements near pipelines had begun to pose a threat but measures have been taken in collaboration with Rand Water to dissuade residents from establishing settlements close to these pipelines. In terms of staffing at the provincial level, Mr Deiner identified four additional posts alluded to in the presentation. However more staff will be required.

On nationalising technology, Mr Deiner maintained that the bilateral agreement between Sweden and South Africa was geared to procuring software which could be applied throughout South Africa. Finally as far as Johannesburg was concerned, Mr Deiner stated that comprehensive risk assessment had been carried out and that the readiness of the inner city would be discussed in forthcoming meetings with Johannesburg city management and the sector departments.

Mr L Buys (Department of Provincial and Local Government (DPLG)) argued that one of the problems experienced in disaster management was the failure to read the Act thoroughly, specifically with regard to Section 1 which clearly defined what was considered a disaster. A disaster was something that could threaten life, property and infrastructure or cause disruption to the community, and was so severe that municipalities could not cope with only their own resources. It was a fallacy that the Act provided that a disaster had to be declared before aid could be provided. With regard to the issue of compensation, two things had to be taken into consideration. First, was the property insurable? If it was insurable and no insurance was taken out on the property then it should not be expected of government to act as an insurer to cover the damages. Secondly if the property was not insurable, relief was a cumbersome process.

Western Cape presentation
Mr Nordier thanked the Committee for its role in delivering the disaster management legislation. He supported Mr Mashudulu’s proposal for the Committee to personally evaluate progress and the difficulties in developing adequate disaster management centres in the provinces. Secondly, Mr Nordier acknowledged the funding problem but was optimistic that with the help and support of the Committee, and between DPLG, the Treasury and provinces, the funding streams could be provided and subsequently far more progress could be made. He lauded the presentations by the provinces considering the limitations they had to deal with. Mr Nordier also stressed the need to make disaster management a stronger priority nationally and expressed particular concern over the state of informal settlements which he found to be congruent to the classical definition of a disaster. He argued that the responsibility to deal with daily disasters was being neglected.

Ms M Murris presented the Western Cape’s state of readiness. Her presentation, as all the preceding presentations entailed a background look at the disaster risk profiles of the Western Cape, including an extensive list of possible disasters, predisposing factors, disasters experienced in the last 5 years, and the most frequent disasters. During her presentation she emphasised the need to consider the need for more skills capacity in the area of disaster management. Her presentation also entailed a holistic snapshot of the state of readiness in the province using the matrix that the previous provinces adopted from Mr Williams’ presentation, and specifically looked at the various municipalities in the Western Cape in relation to the matrix of progress. The presentation also looked at current challenges and realities, and provided some recommendations. (See documents for relevant detail.)

Discussion

Mr Mashudulu, with reference to the Joe Slovo informal settlement flooding, pointed out that land was a problem with regard to the issue of informal settlements. He asked to what extent one could draw in academics to aid in disaster management. Mr Mshudulu also asked how these recommendations could be translated into action to aid progress. Finally he asked what role the private sector can play in aiding progress on disaster management as it affected everybody.

Mr Dorman asked why Cape Town has not established the relevant forum for disaster management. Secondly with regard to listing disasters, he asked if the lack of flooding disasters in Cape Town was because of good planning and implementation of risk management.

Mr Nordier in answer to the latter question said that set plans were executed to prevent flooding. With regard to Joe Slovo informal settlement, adequate housing had been built to prevent a repetition of the previous disaster. He argued that the process of addressing the reoccurrence of disasters entailed a great amount of skill and also involved the participation of the community.

Ms Murris in addressing the issue of disaster management in informal settlements stated that in the drafting of the Provincial Integrated Human Settlement Plan a sentiment was expressed to build not only houses, but also communities. However the most vulnerable settlements would be addressed first. With regard to the issue of private sector involvement, Ms Murris argued that there were provisions in the Act to integrate the private sector in disaster management activity; however this has thus far been on an ad hoc basis. The Act required an advisory forum, a political forum, and a technical forum. At the current point in time there was a forum for officials but not for politicians.

Mr Mashudulu pointed out that understanding of indigenous based knowledge was not based on research but on community participation. He also expressed concern that fires were prevalent in informal settlements and it was important to address this.

Mr Nordier agreed with Mr Mashudulu and argued that the focus should be on trying to manage the daily disasters that occurred throughout the country.

The meeting was adjourned.

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