The Portfolio Committee on Cooperative Governance Traditional Affairs (COGTA) was today briefed by the head of the National Disaster Management Centre (NDMC) on plans to overhaul South Africa’s disaster management systems and legislation in order to improve disaster response capabilities for the country.

Dr Elias Sithole, the Deputy Director-General for the NDMC in the Department of COGTA, told the portfolio committee that a complete overhaul of the disaster management system will better the country’s readiness to respond to disasters such as floods, droughts and fires that have been on the increase, due to the effects of climate change.

The planned review will also respond to the recommendations on disaster management in the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM). APRM is a mutually agreed-upon instrument, voluntarily acceded to by member states of the African Union (AU) as a self-monitoring mechanism. It was established in 2003 to promote peer accountability and the sharing of best practice amongst the AU heads of state.

South Africa became the first country to be peer-reviewed on the fifth thematic area of “state resilience to shocks and disasters”. Thereafter, on 22 June 2022 Cabinet adopted the National Plan of Action.

Several recommendations were tabled for South Africa to address under the following objectives:

  • Enhancing disaster risk knowledge for resilience to shocks and disasters.
  • Governing disaster risk and resilience to shocks and disasters.
  • Investing in resilience to shocks and disasters.
  • Preparedness, response and building back better in recovery, rehabilitation, and reconstruction.

Dr Sithole said since 2022, the NDMC has worked on improving national risk information platforms by ensuring that the national web-based platform is operational, updated with enhancements to risk information data, and widely accessible to provincial and district disaster management entities.

“The NDMC has completed a set of key indicative risk profiles for South Africa’s major hazards – drought, flood, fire and windstorm – and allowed national access to this to guide contingency planning. The NDMC is also improving cooperation and dialogue with key stakeholders through updating its current portfolio of agreements.

“For example, the NDMC and SA Weather Service have signed a new agreement with costs that allows for the development of new data products that monitor climate variability and change impacts. These agreements provide an advancement to core business objectives of the NDMC in terms of early warnings, et cetera,” said Dr Sithole.

Internationally, he added, agreements are in place with partners such as Lesotho, the UN Office of Outer Space Affairs, the UNESCO Indian Ocean Tsunami Warning and Mitigation System, and the International Charter for Space and Major Disasters.

Since 2022, the NDMC has developed the national disaster management research agenda to streamline the disaster risk management research to address the existing gaps and inform policies.

“When disasters happen, we often see NGOs on the scene first. Municipalities and other state agencies arrive late. The question is why take so long to respond? Through the review process and overhaul of the disaster management system, we want to close the gaps and improve our response capabilities,” Dr Sithole said.

The Director-General in the Department of Cooperative Governance, Mr Mbulelo Tshangana, added that it was the perfect time for South Africa to overhaul its disaster management system and review the relevant legislation.

“We have already done benchmarking to look at what is happening in other parts of the world that are prone to disasters, such as California, Australia and others, and there is a lot that we can learn from them.

“Our team has also gone through training and attended a number of programmes in Europe, Asia and America to gain experience on managing disasters,” the DG said.

The Chairperson of the portfolio committee, Mr Fikile Xasa, thanked the department for the information and said it will go into the committee’s legacy report for the seventh Parliament to consider and follow up on issues. “We are almost at the end of our term and drafting our legacy report. Thank you for the information; it will help plug in some gaps in our legacy report,” said the Chairperson.