Disaster Management Draft Bill: briefing

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Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs

27 August 2001
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Meeting Summary

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Meeting report


27 AUGUST 2001

Chairperson: Mr I J Carrim (ANC)

Documents issued:
Disaster Management Bill: briefing
Draft Disaster Management Bill: Powerpoint presentation

The Disaster Management Bill enables the national, provincial and local governments to act in a coordinated way in times of disasters The Committee did not discuss the Bill clause by clause but dealt only with general concerns.

The Chairperson noted that this is a very technical Bill. Professor A Holloway of the Disaster Mitigation for Sustainable Livelihoods Programme, University of Cape Town and Mr Chris Sibanyoni of the Disaster Mitigation Institute at the University of the Western Cape will serve as technical advisors on the Bill.

The Department provided an outline briefing on the Bill. Mr Louis Buys, Chief Director: Disaster Management, noted that the most important point of the Bill is that it must be seen as enabling legislation. It must enable the national, provincial and local governments to act in a coordinated way in times of disasters. However it is important to note that in terms of enabling legislation it is not possible to make every single duty and responsibility part of a law.

Mr Buys said that the Bill is about an integrated, coordinated and common approach to disaster management in South Africa, which he noted is currently not the case. The policy would focus, in order of priority, on the preventative approach and the reduction of the risks that accompany most disasters. He acknowledged that not all disasters could be prevented. However, the risks can be reduced and the consequences can be mitigated. The 1999 White Paper guides the Bill. For more details please refer to the attached document

Mr P Smith (IFP) asked what would distinguish a disaster as anticipated in the National Disaster Fund from those calamities that are not treated as disasters by the Bill. He gave the examples of the HIV/AIDS pandemic and cholera which are not covered in the Bill. He asked how the Bill could be designed so that such are not omitted.

Mr Buys said he could not give a clear-cut answer. He could only say that if the local or provincial authorities could not deal with a problem, sometimes that can be declared a disaster. He agreed that HIV/AIDS is a slow onset type of disaster but there are many ways to deal with it, for example, by means of education.

Ms G Borman (DP) asked whether a cost analysis of this piece of legislation has been made especially when it comes to the implementation of this Bill. She was concerned as to whether the Bill has been budgeted for or if it is going to be in next year’s budget.

Mr Buys replied that the funding mechanism for any disaster warrants the Minister of Finance to expend up to two percent of the total budget of that particular province. However, that is not an easy decision to take because the area should be declared a disaster area first. There are some municipalities that are very capable of doing their own analysis. But the overwhelming majority of the smaller ones do not have that capability. What they are doing in the Department is to get as much accurate information as possible in those areas where there are problems.

Ms Borman asked if there was extensive consultation with communities, Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and the private sector on the Disaster Management Bill.

Mr Buys replied that apart from the publication of the Bill and the comments from stakeholders, they had many consultative workshops with for instance the South African Local Government Association (SALGA). He has addressed at least eleven disaster management organisations in the provinces so far.

Ms Borman noted that all the bodies that Mr Buys had mentioned are statutory bodies, she wanted to know who from the NGOs and communities had they contacted.

Mr Buys said they had contacted some NGOs and organised business in the form of the South African Chamber of Business (SACOB).

Ms Borman asked how comprehensive an audit had the department carried out on existing legislation at provincial level. She added that she would like to see an emphasis made on preventive steps, that is, proactive measures. She asked what the Department will have in place in the tracking system to enable them to detect a disastrous situation before it occurs.

Mr Buys replied that the tracking resources they currently have range from satellite images and updates on a six hourly basis on weather patterns. Detailed weather reports are updated every hour. They also have radar images which tell them what areas of South Africa have a certain weather pattern at a particular point in time.

Ms Borman referred to the development part of the Bill. She asked if the Bill is going to take care of housing development issues such as the fact that people should stop erecting houses on riverbanks or flood plains.

Mr Buys replied that last year they had recommended to Cabinet that the Department cannot allow people to settle in such areas. This has to be part of the department’s plan. The big question is how do they prevent people going back to the same areas. The Bill does not seek to rectify the settlements that have taken place in areas not suitable for human habitation but only deals with disasters. The municipalities should identify those areas and see whether an intervention is needed from the relevant departments.

Mr Smith said the state of emergency is an extra-ordinary measure set out by the Constitution and the parameters as to why it is needed are stated clearly. Referring to Section 37 of the Constitution, he said that a state of emergency is declared when the life of the nation is under threat, and the declaration is necessary to restore peace and order. He suggested that it would be better if the terms of declaring of state of emergency could apply to disaster management as well.

Sister Ncube (ANC) commented that there is no infrastructure that exists to reduce the possibilities of disasters. Should the State wait until a disaster erupts? Ms Southgate (ACDP) echoed this, saying that it is better to be preventative rather than reactive. She said there should be a situation where potential disaster areas are monitored continually.

In terms of disaster prevention, Mr Buys made it clear that the Bill would not make any of the realities on the ground disappear. The point is to identify all land suitable for development of infrastructure. It is important to identify all the areas that are not suitable for settlement of people and to come up with a relocation plan to address this problem.

Mr Mshudulu (ANC) said that the previous year they had been given a discussion document that clearly identified disaster management weaknesses in the current system. He complained that committee members were referring to those same weaknesses which does not add anything to one’s understanding of this Bill. They need to interogate the drafters so
could interpret the Bill better.

Mr Buys replied that the weaknesses that were addressed in the discussion document were as a result of the funding problem and intergovernmental relations. They had tried to capture those issues in a holistic way. But the discussion document still forms the basis of their current programme. The disaster management framework in the regulations will relate to that discussion document. He said those weaknesses would be addressed.

Mr Goosen (ANC) asked how coordination would take place between the spheres of government involved in the whole process. He made an example of the 1999 Manenberg tornado disaster where a command centre was set up at local level but there was an absolute breakdown in communication. No information was disseminated from the command centre to other structures. He hoped this Bill would speed up such a process as lack of coordination results in people waiting months before assistance is given.. His second question was how this Bill differs from the National Environmental Management Act.

Mr Buys replied that the command centre for disaster management in the area referred to by Mr Goosen was established by a special Cabinet decision which had nothing to do with the Department of Provincial and Local Government. He said he would rather not comment on why there was a communication breakdown then.

Mr Buys’ opinion was that there are some areas where this Bill complements the Environmental Management Act, particularly the identification of possible vulnerabilities that may exist in certain areas.

Mr Smith said the reason for asking about the definition of disaster earlier on was because of the obligations that are attached to the Bill. There are issues that the Bill needs to look at as potential disasters. He suggested that the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) should be included in disaster management. Mr Solo (ANC) added that the South African Police Service (SAPS) should also be part of disaster management.

Mr Buys said he has taken the point that certain obligations should be included in the Bill and probably the issue would be discussed further. He said he is not sure that the intention of the Bill was to exclude general issues like HIV/AIDS.

On the issue of the SANDF and SAPS, Mr Buys said there is a structure where the SANDF, SAPS and Intelligence work together on a national level to form joint operations.

Ms Southgate asked about the core centres that would be established provincially. She was aware of one in Cape Town and wanted to know if there are centers in other provinces. The reason for this question was that it has been reported that municipalities spent thousands of rands in establishing core centers but nobody knows where these centers are and how to get in touch with them in case a disaster erupts in their area. With reference to the declaration of disaster, is this Bill going to address that?

Mr Buys did not respond directly to Ms Southgate’s question. He said if a declaration is made nationally as it happened recently in Cape Town, the line of instruction is very clear. Once the Bill is passed, one would be able to determine whether a disaster is a provincial or local disaster.

In conclusion, the Chairperson said the Committee would look at the Bill clause by clause in the next few days. Its purpose would not be to ask the department what they meant by a particular clause but rather to start signalling what the Committee thinks about each clause.


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