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Dr Moses Khangale | All hands on deck to reduce the impact of natural disasters

Dr Moses Khangale | All hands on deck to reduce the impact of natural disasters
13-10-23 / Dr Moses Musiwalo Khangale

Dr Moses Khangale | All hands on deck to reduce the impact of natural disasters

The International Day of Disaster Reduction on 13 October is a day set aside by the United Nations to "celebrate how people and communities around the world are reducing their exposure to disasters and raising awareness about the importance of reining in the risks that they face."

While disasters are not new, they are, however, becoming more frequent and intense. This is exacerbated by climate change, with South Africa especially vulnerable. In 2021, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Report identified the SADC region as one of the globe's climate change hotspots. Already naturally dry and warm, due to climate change, temperature is expected to increase with devastating effect for water availability, veldfire and drought risks amongst other.  The IPCC Report has identified that the single biggest climate change risk that South Africa may have to face in the near term (2021–2040), is one or more 'day zero' droughts occurring in the Gauteng Province. A frightening thought.

From an insurance perspective, climate–induced disasters already account for the largest share of disaster-related losses in South Africa, a trend that is projected to continue.

South Africa's preparation is less than desirable.

We only have to think of the floods in KZN last year, and the very recent Western Cape floods to know that South Africa is vulnerable to disasters.

For the past five years, we have seen the costs of disasters and climate change rise, to amounts way beyond what the public sector can realistically shoulder, especially given the current strained fiscus.

Insurers have experienced increased claims due to weather related losses, with no increase in insurance penetration. A natural response when risk increases is to increase premiums. But this short-term measure would only serve to increase the insurance risk protection gap. 

We must accept that disasters will occur more frequently – and that we cannot sit back and let them devastate the country, its people, infrastructure and economy.

We cannot do it alone

Recovering from disasters, rebuilding communities, and ensuring better resilience against future disasters is too onerous a task for one sector of society alone, business or government. We must use our collective knowledge and experience to partner and collaborate with all stakeholders so that we can reduce the risk and impacts of these disasters.

As a business who specialises in risk management, a robust example of this is our Partnership for Risk and Resilience (P4RR) programme, and its key component, focussing on Climate Change Adaptation. Through P4RR, we have used our risk mitigation knowledge to help communities and municipalities reduce their exposure to risk and adapt against disasters and the effects of climate change.

Increasing municipalities' capacity to manage disaster risks

P4RR works with partners in the private and public sectors, including  municipalities and national government departments, as well as NGOs, to help manage and mitigate risks, focusing on fire, flood and drought. Our primary aim is to enhance municipalities' capacity to proactively manage local disaster risks.  This includes initiatives such as training fire officers and Disaster Management personnel and ensuring they have fire-fighting and disaster management equipment, helping municipalities  develop disaster management plans and disaster-ready communication kits, as well as running disaster simulation exercises. We also encoruage the use and sharing of data and information through a flood, fire and drought data exchange.

P4RR works with selected municipalities and to date, we have assisted over 80 municipalities, impacting the lives of over 12 million South Africa.

Although it is sometimes self-evident where the need for these interventions is greatest, P4RR uses scientific studies to ensure our programmes are effective and implemented where most needed. For example, the outcome of a study of the 2017 Southern Cape wildfires was the formation of the National Disaster Resilience Round Table (NDRR). This Round Table is one of the most inclusive, integrated responses South Africa has mobilised to date in the climate risk reduction and adaptation sphere, for fire, floods and drought.

The P4RR, through the NDRR, facilitated the establishment of the Climate and Disaster Resilience Fund (CDRF), an independently run fund for projects that align with and strengthen the South African government's response to risks associated with climate change and increasingly frequent disasters.

To help municipalities with the development of climate change adaptation plans, P4RR partnered with the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), National Disaster Management Centre and the Department of Forestry, Fisheries & Environment in 2019 to launch the Green Book. The Green Book is an interactive planning support platform that integrates the knowledge fields of urban planning, climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction to provide climate change adaptation support for South African municipalities so they can reduce their vulnerability and exposure to climate hazards.

Santam and the CSIR have completed development of climate change adaption plans for nine districts and one metro in September 2023. The aim is to reach 30 districts by 2025. 

Proactive approaches will build resilience

The 2023 International Day of Disaster Reduction is a reminder that building a resilient society should be a collective endeavor. Our efforts as Santam to date have made a difference, but as the risk of disasters increases, communities, businesses and government must proactively work to prepare. 

*Dr Musiwalo Moses Khangale is Manager: Stakeholder Programmes at Santam Insurance and oversees the insurer's flagship programme Partnership for Risk and Resilience (P4RR).

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