Speeches

Disaster Management: The Way Forward

7 September 2011

I am pleased to confirm that the Provincial Disaster Management and Fire Services Team, under the very able leadership of Mr Colin Deiner, dealt with a wide-ranging number of floods and fires in the province over the past few months.

We have had a sustained period of very unseasonal fires and coupled to this some very unseasonal heavy inclement weather across the province. The drought that had persisted across large areas of the province was also broken by the good rains that accompanied the bad weather.

The heavy downpours that we experienced in the Karoo and the Southern Cape was a big test for our emergency and response teams and I would like to pay tribute to them today for the exceptional work that was undertaken under the most trying circumstances.

The Western Cape experienced heavy rain which resulted in flooding from 7 to 9 June 2011 over the Overberg, Cape Winelands, Eden and Central Karoo Districts. This extreme weather was caused by a cut-off low system which resulted in extreme intense rainfall episodes, causing widespread flooding over most parts of the Western Cape, which led to significant damage to private properties, municipal infrastructure, agriculture, housing and roads infrastructure.

The Department of Water Affairs confirmed that although the duration of flood was short in comparison to previous flooding episodes, the intensity of the flood was extremely high as flood studies indicate that the event could be regarded as a 1:50 year flood which could have resulted in immense damage to property and infrastructure given the fact that buildings are built even in the 1:10 year flood line.

A preliminary damage impact assessment meeting was held in George on 29 June 2011 to assess the extent of the damages and losses incurred by the affected districts, local municipalities, provincial and national departments and state-owned enterprises. These events also had a positive side in that it allowed opportunities for development as well as innovative ideas for sustainable development. It also allowed for mitigation and risk reduction measures to be included in rehabilitation and reconstruction of critical infrastructure. I must also pay tribute to our communities that were affected as they again showed their resilience and support of their fellow citizens.

Although the intensity of this recent flooding was more severe than the August 2006 and November 2007 flooding incidents, the damages to the infrastructure was minimal, which solidified the fact that the rehabilitation and reconstruction that was conducted following previous floods stood up to the effect and impact of these recent floods.

The mitigation/risk reduction projects which were highlighted following the flood incident of 7 to 9 June 2011 were the flood hazard posed by the Kingna, Keisie and Cogmanskloof Rivers in Montagu as well as the fact that the Power Town community always need to be evacuated when exposed to significant weather events.

The total preliminary losses and damages as reported by state-owned enterprises, national and provincial departments as well as municipalities amounted to R579 660 369 with a preliminary financial shortfall of R379 780 369.

The Provincial Disaster Management Centre is facilitating the recovery process with the relevant stakeholders. The preliminary assessment process was followed by a verification process. The final verified figures will then be presented to Cabinet, Treasury and the National Disaster Management Centre for financial consideration. The Provincial Disaster Management Centre will further facilitate the request for disaster declarations and will assist with the recovery process.

The clean-up was also very professionally done and I am pleased to confirm that we are busy acquiring some new equipment that will enhance our activities going forward as well increased training were applicable. We are also continually looking at ways and means of saving water where we can and one of the new developments we are looking at is where residents, schools, and businesses install tanks that will collect rainwater.

The department in addition conducted continuous assessments during the financial year in the drought-stricken areas (Eden and Central Karoo) as well as the area exposed to social conflict, namely De Doorns. In addition, the department supported all eight previously declared disaster areas and their spending patterns on disaster recovery funding. In partnership with the UNHCR, the department conducted a social conflict debriefing in De Doorns and in conjunction with the Department of Water Affairs, the department conducted a drought debriefing in Eden to reflect on challenges and key lessons learned.

The department also improved the assistance to municipalities in managing the wildfire season (between November and April) by introducing four fixed-wing bomber aircraft to augment the current fleet of helicopters and spotter planes. The initiative was of great value to fire services during several large fires in the West Coast, Cape Winelands and Overberg districts.

In an ongoing effort to minimise the impact of fires and floods, the department also conducted an Awareness Campaign reaching approximately 16 000 people and 52 schools through 52 road shows across the province. The campaign targeted persons living in high-risk flood areas and in places susceptible to fires. The department produced a Risk and Development Annual Review 2010 (RADAR) publication in collaboration with the National Disaster Management Centre and the University of Cape Town. This publication, which is the first of its kind in South Africa, provided research information related to disasters which have taken place in the province since 2003.

I am also very pleased to confirm that we are working on an expansion of our provincial fire-fighting capacity. These massive fires we experience during the summer season places a massive burden on our fire-fighting resources and has an impact on the sustainability of the affected municipalities.

The proposed integrated wild land fire management programme will focus on the following components.

Awareness Programme

A communications focus group has been established to provide the much-needed guidance to the various relevant stakeholders when they embark on their annual awareness programmes.This combination of resources will promote coordination of the various activities which will lead to a single more focused awareness programme that will be aimed at the higher risk communities and regions.

Early Warning and Communications

The Provincial Disaster Management Centre (PDMC) will establish a disaster risk watch centre that will will be staffed 24/7 by 2013/2014. A number of new state-of-the-art systems are envisaged for this centre.

Aerial Assets

We have over the past few years seen just how effective aerial firefighting has become and the key to this is early resonse. In this regard we therefore have to have such assets placed strategically across the province. In addition we will have to increase our fleet due to the massive area that we protect and it is my objective to see a doubling of the aircraft available by 2012/2013.

Establishment of Provincial Ground Support Teams

We have numerous job creation programmes in our country to alleviate poverty and we are very proud of the success we have achieved with our Working on Fire (WoF) initiative. It is a best practice model and is certainly one of the most successful poverty relief and skills development programmes launched since 1994.

It is our intention to establish six provincial ground support teams in 2011/2012 and then increase this with six more teams in the following two years. It is also our intention to deploy these teams on a permanent basis and then utilise them in the off season to carry out fire prevention activities such as controlled burns and cutting fire breaks. In addition it is our intention to recruit team members from within the communities where they will be deployed.