Inefficient disaster management threatens response to drought conditions in Northern Cape

Ismail Obaray, MPL

DA Provincial Spokesperson of Agriculture

The DA is deeply concerned that, while the Northern Cape Department of Agriculture continues to drag its feet on disaster management, a number of areas in the province are again facing very dry conditions and, if the province does not receive good rainfall within the next couple of weeks, many areas could suffer a repeat of the devastating drought that occurred in the 2013/2014 financial year.

The previous drought to hit the province affected three of the five districts, namely John Taole Gaetsewe, Frances Baard and parts of Namakwa. The severity of the drought was such that it was concluded that the province needed R90 million a month for four months to assist the affected farmers with emergency feed.  However, due to administrative bungles and the lack of a proper disaster management plan to guide a coordinated response, it took more than six months for the Premier to declare a state of disaster, and another two months for the National Disaster Management Centre to classify the disaster as a provincial disaster.  As a result, the province only received drought relief, to the value of R50 million, almost a year after the drought had started. In the meantime, thousands of animals starved to death.

Now, a large part of the province, including areas between Kimberley and Douglas, as well as the areas around Ulco, Barkley West, Hopetown, Loeriesfontein, Carnarvon and Loxton are again experiencing drought-like conditions.   However, due to the fact that the agriculture department is still in the process of finalising its drought relief strategy, there is no guarantee that the affected farming areas will receive timely assistance, should the drought conditions escalate.

We are dismayed that, despite repeated calls by farmers unions and the DA to prioritise disaster management, the department still fails to take this critical responsibility seriously. This is in spite of commitments made by MEC of Agriculture, Norman Shushu in 2011 that a Disaster Management Strategy would be finalised within the first quarter of 2011/2012.

Disaster management processes need to be formalised and streamlined as a matter of urgency. This is especially important given that the severity and frequency of disasters is growing due to climate change, the change in weather patterns and inefficient land use.

In finalising the disaster specific schemes for droughts, fires and floods, the DA proposes that the department also does the following:

  1. Clarifies processes and institutions responsible for declaring a disaster;
  2. Makes provision in future budgets for disaster risk reduction;
  3. And ensures that structures are in place for efficient and effective distribution of funds.