South Africa is a dynamic, developing country in a challenging transition as it struggles to protect life and health, property, infrastructure and the environment from disasters. It is generally accepted that prevention is better than cure when it comes to disasters, and so South Africa’s National Disaster Management Act and Framework focuses on proactive disaster risk reduction. This study attempts to improve the understanding of the challenges for disaster risk reduction within vulnerable South African urban communities including both rapid and slow onset disasters, as well as everyday emergencies. It delves into the challenges of disaster risk reduction as expressed by stakeholders in Imizamo Yethu.The study observes that South Africa has overwhelming and increasing problems with disaster risk in the vulnerable urban communities in and around its rapidly growing metropolitan centres. The stakeholders highlight the following as the main challenges for disaster risk reduction:
community growth – the uncontrolled growth and the overcrowding of the community
lack of land – the overcrowding of the area results in use of land largely unsuitable for habitation and the limited space combined with a rapid growth results in an unplanned settlement
politics – initiatives to address the problems in the settlement are a challenge due to conflicting development agendas, disagreements within the settlement, objections from outside stakeholders, and political disputes
institutional capacity – the lack of institutional capacity to provide housing and service deliveries
community risk behaviour – understanding and ownership of risk among the community residents.
To address the challenges, the study recommends the following:
massive development initiatives should be implemented
the already high population density must also be addressed, through allocating more land, building multi-story buildings or presenting an alternative location that is attractive enough for inhabitants to choose to move
large public investments are necessary to meet the demands for housing and service deliveries in the township
large-scale public awareness raising campaigns are needed to address various and widespread behaviours and activities that increase risk in the community
disaster risk reduction is a development problem and therefore must be an integrated part of development planning with the collaboration of all administrative levels and sectors of government in South Africa.