Mainstream disaster management in Sadc

Davison Kaiyo Correspondent
Tropical Cyclone Idai is regarded as one of the worst tropical cyclones on record to affect Africa and the Southern Hemisphere as a whole. The lived storm caused catastrophic damage in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi, leaving hundreds of people dead and or missing, while thousands more have been displaced.

A major humanitarian crisis unfolded in the wake of the cyclone, with hundreds of thousands of people in urgent need of assistance across the three countries

As the three countries in the Southern Africa region, namely Zimbabwe, Malawi and Mozambique slowly recover from the devastating effects of Cyclone Idai that ravaged them recently, it’s time for the regional body the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC), to step up efforts to include disaster management and early warning signs as part of the regional integration.

The effects of the cyclone have again highlighted the need to continuously mainstream disaster preparedness and response into the regional integration efforts.

Regional integration is described as the process of overcoming barriers that divide neighbouring countries by common accord, in this case the SADC Treaty, and of jointly managing shared resources and assets.

Essentially, it is a process by which groups of countries liberalise trade, creating a common market for goods, people, capital and services.

This has given the perception that regional integration is only focused on the economic, political and trade aspects only.

This process is overseen by the governments of the specific states.

Past efforts at regional integration have often been seen to be focused on removing barriers to free trade in the region, increasing the free movement of people, labour, goods, and capital across national borders, reducing the possibility of regional armed conflict, and adopting cohesive regional stances on policy issues, such as the environment, climate change and migration.

It was only in 2016 that SADC member states agreed to come together and to act in unison on issues of common interest and in coming up with a comprehensive and integrated regional approach to Disaster Risk Reduction and Response Strategy.

The SADC Regional Disaster Preparedness and Response Strategy was expected to enhance coordinated interventions to disasters in the region and act as a disaster reduction strategy.

The strategy was also expected to see the establishment of the Disaster Fund.

The importance of DRR to SADC citizens, countries and the region at large cannot be overemphasised, especially as the region recovers from Cyclone Idai despite the fact that the region has also been severely hit by the El Nino-induced drought since 2014 and the past season was no different.

Disaster risk management includes preparedness, mitigation, response, rehabilitation and recovery.

As the effects of climate change and global warming are now being felt in most countries, the SADC region continues to face an increasing trend in disaster occurrences, examples being the most recent Cyclone Idai, which caught most member states unprepared.

The Disaster Risk Reduction Unit of the SADC Secretariat, which is mandated to pro-actively coordinate disaster risk management at regional level, was also caught flat-footed by Idai and the El Nino-induced drought and acute water shortages which can be attributed to prolonged drought conditions.

The infrastructural damages of Cyclone Idai runs into millions, leaving many citizens of the three countries to wallow in poverty, emphasising the importance of implementing disaster risk reduction strategies and frameworks towards eradication of extreme poverty.

Disaster occurrences are negatively affecting development as resources are channelled to rebuilding and it is evident from Cyclone Idai that it is mostly the poor communities and the vulnerable that are the worst affected when disasters occur because of their lack of capacity to cope with the impact, hence the urgent need of the operationaliastion of the Disaster Fund.

Climate change, which has brought severity of extreme weather conditions and has overwhelmed the disaster preparedness capacity in all affected member countries, meaning that SADC has to invest in actions that would accelerate the achievement of sustainable resilience to disasters.

Cyclone Idai that ravaged the region has exposed the region’s disaster risk management challenges that include underfunding and uncoordinated efforts.

This shows the lack of institutional frameworks for disaster risk reduction at the regional level despite the presence of the Disaster Risk Reduction Unit within the SADC Secretariat.

The cyclone has also highlighted the weak information and knowledge management systems, specifically in high risk areas and lack of comprehensive and constantly updated risk assessments and analysis.

This calls for the urgent need to capacitate through the provision of funding to the unit as it plays a critical role in the region’s disaster management.

SADC, as a body has not developed a protocol on disaster risk reduction or management and only relies on the strategy and other complimentary protocols such as the defence, politics and security cooperation protocol Article 2, which states that a specific objective of the Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation shall be to “enhance regional capacity in respect of disaster management and coordination of international humanitarian assistance” and one hopes that after Idai there will be a standalone protocol on disaster management. Another complimentary SADC protocol that is used in disaster management is the 1999 Health protocol Article 25 on Emergency Health Services and Disaster Management.

This articles calls on states to co-operate and assist each other in the co-ordination and management of disaster and emergency situations; develop mechanisms for co-operation and assistance with emergency services and to collaborate and facilitate regional efforts in developing awareness, risk reduction, preparedness and management plans for natural and man-made disasters.

In the past, the most significant consideration in joining a regional economic group such as SADC, however, as mentioned earlier, was the economic benefit each individual nation stood to gain, but as has been discussed earlier, the benefits far exceed the economic and combined regional efforts in disaster risk management to ensure community safety and protection of economic assets as seen by the coming together of SADC member states in trying to minimise the effects of Cyclone Idai is another.

It is, therefore, imperative that disaster risk management be mainstreamed in the regional integration of the SADC bloc.

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