DISASTER MANAGEMENT IN SOUTH AFRICA’S INFORMAL SETTLEMENTS: POLICY, PRACTICE AND COVID-19 IMPLICATIONS

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S Mntambo
P Adebayo

Abstract

The rise of informal settlements in the global south during the latter part of the twentieth century led to the role of disaster management being recognized as a crucial aspect of urban planning. As a result of this, the United Nations called for all the world’s governments to develop and integrate proactive and preventative disaster management policies into their respective countries’ development plans while integrating informal settlements in their urban planning initiatives in a bid to create inclusive cities. South Africa, being one of the countries that are heavily impacted by informal settlements, was swift to embrace these international recommendations, especially from a policy making perspective. The implementation of these policies has however been overshadowed by lacklustre government performance with respect to reducing the disaster risks associated with informal settlements or the inclusion of these areas in urban development. (hazards and lack of services aggravating disaster vulnerability) This article, therefore, explores the policy-practice realities that have given birth to the challenges faced by South Africa’s post-apartheid disaster management initiatives, especially with regard to the disaster vulnerability of informal settlement dwellers. By assessing how international best practice recommendations have influenced the country’s disaster management policy, the article proceeds to analyse the implementation inadequacies that have induced the existing policy-practice disjuncture, and the resultant safety and socio-economic concerns that arise for the country’s informal settlement dwellers. Also, with the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic triggering a state of national disaster in the country, the article analyses the aggravated vulnerability of contacting and spreading of the virus amongst informal settlement residents, along with the socio-economic implications that the national lockdown restrictions have had on these areas. The findings of this article suggest that, although South Africa’s disaster management policy and legislation has comprehensively developed the necessary guidelines for all the spheres of government to play their respective roles in the country’s disaster reduction and recovery initiatives, Information from the government’s databases suggests that the implementation of risk preventative disaster management approaches has been extremely sporadic in informal settlements, despite these areas accounting for 75 per cent of where the country’s disasters events take place. Findings also suggest that South Africa’s informal settlement dwellers have been the hardest hit by the Covid-19 disaster, intensifying the levels of exclusion in these areas.

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