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International and South Africa’s Disaster Management

The Rationale and History of South Africa’s Organizational Approach to Disaster Management

When South Africa gained self-governance status in 1931, one of the issues that its government focused on was the management of major disasters. Historically, the country had experienced major disasters that claimed many lives over the years because of a lack of preparedness. Some of the major disasters that the country has had to deal with include earthquakes, flooding, storms, and wildfires (Holla et al., 2018). South Africa has also suffered from a major outbreak of communicable diseases which have disrupted normal activities of its citizens. The national government realized that it was crucial to have a system that would facilitate management of such events. The Disaster Management Act of 2002, which was promulgated in 2003, set up the National Disaster Management Center (Petrillo & Bellaviti, 2017). The center was mandated to respond to disasters within the shortest time possible. It created eight units in the eight provinces to enhance its ability to respond to catastrophic events quickly.

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The rationale for this devolved approach to disaster management was motivated by the knowledge that such undesirable events can happen at any time. Schreider (2019) explains that the reason why disaster management in the country is organized in such a way is to spread response assets closer to where a disaster may strike. It was meant to avoid cases where disaster management equipment has to move from the capital to the affected location. As such, each province has its own command centers where individuals can respond to any problem within the shortest time. In its decentralization strategy, proper structures have been put close to the area where certain disasters are expected. For instance, Pretoria is prone to flash floods during the rainy seasons. As such, the center, through its provincial headquarters, has put up a response unit meant to manage such problems. Having the response centers close to places known to be susceptible to specific natural disasters has helped to improve the success rates of the response.

The Implementation Pattern That Applies

The government of South Africa has made a successful effort to have systems and structures that can facilitate an effective response to major disasters. However, Enenkel et al. (2017) claim that having an effective blueprint for managing such events is just one of the steps. Implementation is another crucial step that has to be taken into account. It is not enough for a country to have a plan. It should also have the capacity to implement it in the best way possible using the available resources. Parsons et al. (2016) explain that a country can adopt a top-down, bottom-up, or mixed/confused method depending on the forces that it faces. In South Africa, the bottom-up approach has proven to be the most appropriate implementation pattern. The approach has proven to be essential in meeting goals set in the Act discussed above.

When the law was enacted in 2002, the government was keen on involving local stakeholders in managing challenges that arise during the process of implementation. Schreider (2019) advises that it is often important to determine whether the response and recovery actions should be triggered by the national or local government. The decision to use a bottom-up approach meant that recovery actions are initiated by the local government. Using information from the community offers the best approach to dealing with recurrent disasters such as flooding, storm, and wildfire. The locals are in the best position to understand the pattern that such a catastrophic event is likely to take because they have experienced it for some time. They can advise the response team on the best approach and pattern that can be taken to minimize the impact of the disaster (Petrillo & Bellaviti, 2017). For instance, when dealing with wildfires, the local center can identify the potential path that it is likely to take and places that may be worst hit by the disaster based on the experience that they have.

Disaster Hazards and Planning

It is not possible to prevent a natural disaster from happening, and neither is it easy to predict such an occurrence. The only responsible step that a country can take is to put in place mitigation measures to ensure that these events do not have devastating impacts. A country should have a proper plan on how to deal with a major disaster in a way that as many lives and properties as possible can be protected. In South Africa, the government has developed an effective plan to help manage some of the common natural disasters. The following are the major disasters the country is prone to, which the government has developed plans for their management in case they occur.


South Africa may not be as susceptible to major earthquakes as some Asian countries such as Japan. However, such events have been witnessed, especially in the coastal cities of the country. One of the major earthquakes that occurred in 1969 was named the Tulbagh earthquake (Schreider, 2019). It affected various towns, including Tulbagh, Wolseley, and Ceres. 12 people lost their lives, many others sustained injuries to varying degrees, and properties worth millions of dollars were lost. The 2006 Mozambique earthquake also had a devastating effect on the northern part of South Africa. More recently in 2014, the Orkney earthquake struck the gold mining district of Klerksdorp, which is in the North West Province. The government has been following the international earthquake preparedness and response protocol that involves immediate evacuation of people as soon as it is detected.


Flooding is one of the most common disasters in South Africa. Such events often recur despite measures that have been taken to minimize lives losses and properties destruction. One such event was the KwaZulu Natal flooding that started in December 2010 and lasted till late January 2011 (Petrillo & Bellaviti, 2017). Official government report indicated that more than 141 people lost their lives and properties worth USD 200 million were destroyed. In November 2016, another major flood hit Johannesburg city, killing about seven people and properties of unknown value were lost. More recently on April 22, 2019, the coastal city of Durban was struck by another major flooding problem. More than 85 people lost their lives and property worth over USD 45,299,000 was lost (Mensah et al., 2018). The government has spent a significant amount of money to redesign some of the major cities more susceptible to flooding to ensure that the impact is reduced as much as possible. Some of the affected schools have also been conducting drills to help learners to understand how to respond to such an event. The goal is to have a proactive approach to managing major disasters.

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Storms and Wildfires

South Africa has also experienced cases of storms and wildfires, which have affected many people in the country. The Cape storm of 2017 is a good example of a natural disaster that the country suffered over the recent time. In this case, the storm hit the coastal city of Cape Town at a speed of more than 120 km/h (Schreider, 2019). The incident led to the destruction of over 800 homes, 135 schools, and many other business premises. About 30 people lost their lives in the storm while many others sustained serious injuries. The tropical storm Domoina of 1984 was another devastating event. The storm led to the death of over 242 people and properties worth over USD 200 million were lost. During this event, the country was ill-prepared to deal with such a major catastrophe. Most of the state agencies did not understand how to respond in time to mitigate the impact. Wildfires have also become common in the country, especially in some major forests during dry periods. Table Mountain fires of 2000, 2006, and 2009, and Western Cape fires of 2015 are some of the notable events that the country has experienced over the recent past. The Department of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fishery has been working with various government agencies to monitor outbreaks of such wildfires so that they can be managed before they can spread.

Participants in South Africa’s Disaster Management

The government of South Africa has been keen on ensuring that there is proper coordination of different stakeholders to facilitate their effective management. Schreider (2019) explains that without a proper coordination and communication mechanism, confusion can easily arise, leading to costly mistakes. The government has outlined various stakeholders who are responsible for responding to different emergencies and how they need to coordinate at the local, provincial, and national levels determined by the nature and significance of the problem. The Department of Minerals and Energy has the mandate to monitor and provide accurate information about earthquakes and their potential impact. The department works closely with the local law enforcement agencies when it is necessary to evacuate people from places considered hotspots. They have to coordinate their activities to enhance the level of success of such activities. It coordinates with other governmental institutions to facilitate rescue and recovery missions. The department of defense has also been playing a major role in rescue missions. Military officers often help in rescuing people trapped by floods. The officers also help in distributing relief food for those who are affected by the problem.

The department of Water and Sanitization also has a major role in managing disasters relating to flooding in the country. It has to coordinate rapid repairs of water systems destroyed by floods. No-governmental institutions also have a major role to play in the country’s disaster management. The South African Red Cross Society has been contributory in responding to major disasters in the country. The institution has been involved in various humanitarian activities such as search and rescue missions in areas worst hit by disasters. They offer first aid to victims before facilitating their movement to the nearest health facilities. International organizations have also helped in responding to the impact of major disasters. The World Health Organization (WHO) has helped the country to combat outbreaks of diseases resulting from natural disasters such as floods. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has also been active in assisting the government to manage emergencies relating to some of these disasters. In addition, the news agencies have become integral participants in emergency response systems. They help in the dissemination of information about a disaster so that people can understand what they need to do to stay safe.

Potential Obstacles to Effective Disaster Management

It is important to consider the fact that some obstacles often exist, which limits the ability of various disaster management agencies to undertake their duties effectively. One of the potential barriers is limited financial resources that can facilitate massive responses to major disasters. As Cordner (2017) observes, in every financial year, only a portion of the country’s budget is set aside for disaster preparedness. Sometimes the magnitude of the disaster is so immense that the available resources cannot facilitate effective response. It takes time to get additional funds from international community or other departments of the government to facilitate effective response. The unpredictability of some of these disasters is still a challenge to the country. The government is always keen on limiting the loss of lives as much as possible when the disaster strikes. However, the inability to know when and how it will strike has made it difficult to avoid fatalities.

The government is still struggling with the problem of having a highly equipped response team that can manage different emergencies. For instance, it has been challenging for the country to have a team of experts who can accurately predict the time and magnitude of the earthquake. As such, the country has been relying on international organizations to get such crucial information. The bureaucracy involved in sharing such data often results in loss of lives as it may take some time for the response team to understand what it needs to do. Sometimes lack of proper coordination among those involved in the search and rescue mission may negatively affect the outcome of the response to a given disaster.

How Disasters Have Shaped Disaster Management Planning and Policy

Various disasters have shaped the approach to their management planning and policy. One of the lessons that the country has learned from some of the disasters discussed above is that it is almost impossible for the country to predict when a disaster will occur, its magnitude, and places that are likely to be affected. As such, it is costly to take a reactive approach to manage these disasters. Various agencies responsible for managing different disasters have to train continuously and be equipped with relevant items needed to manage the problem. The forest department has been conducting regular training so that their officers can gain unique knowledge and experience in managing wildfires.

These disasters have also emphasized the need to have effective policies that can guide the process of planning and responding to disasters. The Disaster Management Act of 2002 was introduced to help in providing a clear guideline on how to respond to different disasters. It became evident that having such laws makes it easy to determine the role of different stakeholders in responding to major disasters. Some of the recent cases of flooding have made various municipal and city councils rethink their urban planning. As the population of these towns and cities continues to grow, it has become essential to protect wetlands and to avoid blockage of drainage as a way of reducing the magnitude of flooding. It is also clear that stakeholders need to work as a unit to overcome some of these disasters.

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Cordner, L. (2017). Maritime security risks, vulnerabilities and cooperation: Uncertainty in the Indian Ocean. Palgrave Macmillan.

Enenkel, M., Papp, A., Veit, E., & Voigt, S. (2017). Top-down and bottom-up: A global approach to strengthen local disaster resilience. Conference Paper, 2(1), 537-542.

Holla, K., Ristvej, J., & Titko, M. (Eds.). (2018). Crisis management: Theory and practice. IntechOpen.

Mensah, P., Katerere, D., Hachigonta, S., & Roodt, A. (Eds.). (2018). Systems analysis approach for complex global challenges. Springer.

Parsons, M., Glavac, S., Hastings, P., Marshall, G., McGregor, J., McNeill, J., Morley, P., Reeve, I., … Stayner, R. (2016). Top-down assessment of disaster resilience: A conceptual framework using coping and adaptive capacities. International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction, 19(1), 1-11.

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Schreider, T. (2019). Building an effective cyber security program: A security manager’s handbook- a security manager’s handbook (2nd ed.). Rothstein Associates.

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