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Cape Town - Every year, the City of Cape Town’s disaster risk management service is expected to deal with hundreds of fires, floods, and even snow, which has fallen twice in the past month.
But the service, the biggest of its kind in the country, doesn’t have enough money. Despite this it has still managed to achieve some significant successes, particularly in reducing the number of fire-related deaths.
According to the disaster risk management centre’s annual report for 2012/13, submitted to the city’s mayoral committee, there are still “inadequate funding arrangements in place”.
Greg Pillay, head of disaster management and author of the report, said another constraint was the lack of an electronic communication management system linking the city with the provincial and national disaster management centres. This was a “serious concern for efficient and effective communication during times of crisis”.
Rapid urbanisation and the lack of adequate housing placed pressure on the city to provide infrastructure and services. “The phenomenon of backyard shacks being erected in formal areas has also become problematic, and increased the fire risk. This leads to the problematic hazards of flooding and fires in these communities, as well as contributing to the threat of xenophobia occurring,” he said.
But, despite these challenges, Cape Town’s disaster risk management team has been showcased internationally as a role model of disaster resilience.
“The service has grown over the years into something that we can be proud of,” said the mayoral committee member for safety and security, JP Smith.
The service has been activated at “full strength” for the past few weeks, as heavy rains and severe weather systems have caused flooding.
More than R16 million has been spent since August providing relief to 200 000 residents affected by flooding. More than 15 000 people were affected by floods over two days last month.
A series of fires this week caused damage of more than R900 000. Many were caused by gas burners and domestic fires used to keep residents in informal settlements warm.
As Cape Town prepares for the drier summer and south-easter gales, the likelihood of more devastating fires increases, especially in informal settlements where access is difficult for emergency services.
Smith said the service was responding well to these blazes, and had reduced the number of fire-related deaths from 7.9 per 100 000 to four per 100 000.
During 2012/13, teams dealt with several major flooding and fire incidents.
Pillay said clear funding arrangements and financial obligations needed to be secured from the national and provincial governments, especially when dealing with large-scale disasters.