Improving Disaster Preparedness In SADC
16 October 2000
by Tinashe Madava
As the rainy season approaches and memories of last season's devastating floods still fresh in the minds of many across southern Africa, the region's disaster preparedness once again comes under spotlight.
When floods hit Botswana, Mozambique, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe last year, health and relief facilities were over-stretched. Infrastructure worth millions of United States dollars was destroyed. Aid poured in from the region and beyond, to feed the flood victims and rehabilitate affected areas. Mozambique, the hardest hit, received most of the crucial aid.
But the million-dollar question is being asked, "Is the region prepared if disaster strikes again?"
Weather experts have already warned that some parts of Mozambique are still water-logged, raising worries the country might succumb again even in the event of normal rains. Apart from this obvious risk, it is not clear yet which parts of southern Africa are likely to suffer from drought or floods.
According to David Magang, Botswana Works, Transport and Communications Minister, SADC lacks the capacity for early warning on adverse weather effects. Addressing the fourth Southern Africa Climate Outlook Forum in Botswana, Magang emphasised the need for cooperation at regional and global levels to address issues such as early warning. He called for the strengthening and enhancing of basic infrastructure and capacities of national meteorological and hydrological services.
One institution providing such services in the region is the Drought Monitoring Centre in Harare. The centre promotes technical and scientific capacity, produces and disseminates climate forecast information in strategic sectors such as agriculture, health, energy and water resources, as well as disaster mitigation.
The Botswana forum was called to discuss the vital role of weather and climate information and ways of addressing challenges presented by weather related natural disasters in the southern African region. Since the floods early this year, several workshops have been held on the national level to discuss disaster preparedness.
At the global level, the UN system has been designated as the appropriate platform to implement an International Strategy for Disaster Reduction to engage governments, international agencies, civil society and the private sector. This is motivated by the importance of shifting from a culture of reaction to hazards to one of risk management and prevention.
The International Strategy for Disaster Reduction is aimed at moving towards the future necessity of:
From 1989 to 1999, the world observed the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction. A series of workshops and conferences were held to chart the way towards disaster reduction.
- fostering multi-disciplinary and inter-sectoral relationships to address the impacts of natural, technological and environmental hazards on modern societies;
- shifting activities and resource allocations from a predominant protection against hazards, to the management of risks; and
- integrating on-going risk prevention strategies into sustainable development plans by public, private and local community collaboration through partnership activities.
One such meeting, the first African sub-regional workshop on Natural Disaster Reduction conducted by the UN department of Humanitarian Affairs in Botswana in 1994 pointed out that it is difficult to translate practical experiences with catastrophes such as drought into institutional frameworks.
Other issues must be incorporated, such as an increase in hazards caused by expanding development and the double-edged importance of water - for instance while it is one of Lesotho's most valuable assets and opportunities for economic growth, if poorly managed, a it is a great threat of flooding and erosion.
Natural occurrences such as floods, droughts, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions cannot be stopped from taking place. They are part of the environment. What can be done, however, is to take preventive measures at various levels of society in order to make the impact of such natural hazards as harmless as possible for people and their properties.
The impact of a natural hazard can be reduced and its worst effects can be prevented. Natural disasters hit all economies, rich or poor. But it is the poor who suffer most often due to lack of preparedness. And protecting the poor from disasters entails poverty alleviation.
There are two important stages in the effort to reduce the impact of disasters -- disaster reduction and disaster preparedness. The reduction of natural disasters, by and large, are long term measures usually taken at the policy level.
Natural disaster preparedness involves short-term actions undertaken to avoid the worst impact of an imminent hazard. These measures can be in the form of evacuation plans and especially the timely usage of an early warning system which announces the imminence of a natural hazard.
Political will is necessary to ensure that appropriate policies and institutional arrangements foster a culture of prevention in southern Africa.
Participants to last year's International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction (IDNDR) pledged to adopt and implement policy measures at the international, regional, sub-regional and national levels aimed at reducing vulnerability of societies to both natural and technological disasters through "proactive rather than reactive approaches".
They pointed out that appropriate financial resources are needed to ensure the development and implementation of prevention and mitigation policies as well as programmes, especially in developing countries. The participants recommended that all bilateral and multilateral development assistance should include disaster reduction components. (SARDC)