Reducing disasters one munipality at a time

3 min read 19 October 2018

 Disasters can strike anywhere and at any time. In September 2017, the world saw Hurricane Maria, which struck Puerto Rico and left more than 4 600 people dead. 

Last year 330 natural catastrophe events generated global economic losses of $337 billion (97% of which were due to weather-related events), amounting to a 93% increase over the 2000-2016 average. In South Africa, catastrophe insured losses during 2017 were the highest ever recorded, driven by the disastrous Knysna fires and floods in Durban and Gauteng. Globally more than 11 000 people lost their lives or went missing in disasters, while millions were left homeless.  

South Africa has experienced its own devastating natural disasters during this year. On 22 March, Gauteng was hit by a severe storm and some areas recorded more than a month’s worth of rain in just 24 hours. Each year catastrophic events such as storms, flooding and fires cause millions of rands worth of damage to vulnerable communities across the country. 

“In such times of distress, it is frequently the poorer communities who bear the brunt of damages and loss due to inadequate planning, training and limited resources. Such disasters have a negative impact on the livelihoods and the health and safety of people residing in these communities“, says John Lomberg, Santam head: stakeholder relations and corporate social investment.

The International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction presents an opportunity to raise awareness around practical interventions – such as identifying high risk areas and the appropriate responses that can be factored into disaster management and planning, when it comes to reducing the risks on the ground.

It is for that reason that Santam embarked on the Partnership for Risk and Resilience (P4RR) initiative, a partnership between Santam and local municipalities to build resilient and risk aware communities. P4RR is a partnership with the Department of Cooperative Governance and the South African Local Government Association that works with provincial and district disaster management centres to capacitate local government with fire and flood risk management skills and equipment.  Since 2012, Santam has invested more than R5.4 million in helping 32 municipalities across South Africa to better respond to the risk of fires and floods. The programme intends to assist a total of 53 local municipalities in 10 districts over the next five years, and impacting the lives of about 5 million South Africans.

The partnership is a systematic and sustainable insurance approach that emphasises the importance of early warning systems, preparedness and proactive risk management. “Reducing risk and building resilience is a long-term process that involves research-based evidence, multi-party collaboration as well as knowledge generation and sharing, said John Lomberg, Santam’s Head of CSI and Stakeholder Management.

The 5 recipient District municipalities impacted to date are:

“Addressing disaster risk management at municipal level, presents a variety of challenges – particularly so in the more rural areas,” maintains Lomberg.  “The availability of fire-fighting and fire protection systems; safety and security; building regulations and building accessibility to  storm water drainage all inform the availability and affordability of insurance at the level of municipal government. “By working with municipalities, we are developing solutions using our risk assessment and management expertise through strategic partnerships to improve sustainability, as well as improve service delivery within municipal functions.”

Lomberg maintains, community education and capacity building in disaster management is vital to mitigate against the economic and social impact “it is a concerted effort to reduce and prevent the very real likelihood of loss of life - and the related traumas arising from such catastrophic events as and when they may occur.”