Media Release: Minister Winde marks anniversary of the Garden Route fires
Today marks the one year anniversary since the devastating Garden Route fires, which tragically claimed many lives and caused damage and hardship for thousands of others.
Today we pay tribute to those who lost their lives, and to the brave and hard-working people who worked, during the fires and after, to ensure that the Garden Route will recover from this disaster.
There is still a long way to go, but due to the generosity of individuals and corporates, the work of several government departments and partnerships with the private sector, we have managed to do some important work.
The fire necessitated the deployment of the largest contingent of fire fighters and emergency personnel for a single operation in South African history. The Department of Local Government and Environmental Affairs, and Provincial Disaster Risk Management were instrumental in ensuring that fires were put out safely.
In addition to actions taken by the municipalities, the Western Cape Government provided funding, resources and support across the board.
The focus in the first six months after the fire, was on short-term interventions to minimise further risks, such as preventing landslides on slopes that had been made unstable as a result of burned out vegetation. During this period, a comprehensive disaster funding request was submitted to national government, and approval of some disaster funds is expected soon.
A project management office was established to drive and co-ordinate projects and a recovery strategy devised.
This long-term strategy will use the opportunity to create more jobs, address the lack of affordable accommodation in the area, protect the environment, and put plans in place to ensure that this does not happen again.
In order to help the economy recover, the focus has been on increasing tourism by creating focused projects, and setting up skills development programmes.
The Department of Economic Development and Tourism (DEDAT), seconded an official to lead the Garden Route Rebuild Initiative, which focused its work on seven different work streams: humanitarian assistance, reconstruction, environmental management, business support, infrastructure rehabilitation, funding and resourcing, and skills development.
The disaster has taught us important lessons, particularly around the importance of project management support in imergencies like these, and the value of partnerships to ensure a full and co-ordinated response.
Below is a list of some of the projects, funding and ongoing support offered by the Western Cape Government in the past year:
The Department of Local Government and Environmental Affairs , Provincial Disaster Management :
- Properties with asbestos were identified and property owners instructed to remove the rubble safely. However, some owners still dumped asbestos on municipal land, and in April 2018, the Department of Local Government transferred R2 million to the Eden municipality for the safe removal of asbestos.
- Hosted two Thusong outreach events where residents were able to access a range of government services including those required to replace lost documents like IDs and birth certificates and to apply for pensions and UIF.
- The national Department of Environmental Affairs launched a hydro-seeding project, which seeded 90 hectares of land and created 45 jobs.
- An alien removal project, funded by private and public funds, was initiated to create firebreaks and thereby reduce future fire risk.
The Department of Social Development:
- Additional R1 million in funding made available for trauma counselling and additional social workers, who conducted surveys with over 1500 affected people in the wake of the fire.
The Department of Human Settlements:
- R18 million spent on installing 135 serviced sites at White Location.
- In addition, the Department is also currently finalising contracts to restore 45 subsidised houses which were damaged in the fire, as well as to construct 55 new houses for qualifying fire-affected households, at a cost of R13 million. This will ensure that qualifying residents will be better off after the disaster than they were before.
The Department of Economic Development and Tourism:
- In the wake of the fires, businesses and tourism suffered, which had an impact on jobs. The skills development work stream, led by DEDAT prioritised four areas: tourism, construction, business support and environment.
- 30 people completed a hospitality course and a coding course, offered by UWC, was also made available.
- Currently supporting in developing a comprehensive tourism strategy.
The Department of Agriculture:
- Agricultural department officials visited the area, and conducted assessments of the needs.
- R1.6 million was allocated for livestock feed, assisting 42 farmers with fodder for their animals.
The Department of Education:
- Assessment of, and provision of support to scholars affected by the fires.
The Department of Health:
- Provided health care services during the incident
- Ensured the safe evacuation of all patients at Knysna hospital
- Established two active emergency sites where emergency cases were treated and referred.