How can South African communities recover from deadly floods?

After a week of relentless rain and punishing mudslides, residents of the Durban area of ​​South Africa are now turning their attention to rebuilding. The historic flood, which destroyed nearly 4,000 homes and claimed 448 lives, caused one of deadliest natural disasters in the history of the country.

In an address to his country earlier this week, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said more than 40,000 people have been displaced from their homes. An additional 8,300 homes were damaged in addition to the thousands destroyed.

Daniel P. Aldrich, director of the Security and Resilience Studies program and professor of political science and public policy, poses for a portrait. Photo by Ruby Wallau/Northeastern University

Ramaphosa declared a state of national disaster and allocated $67 million to help those affected by the floods. The South African military has deployed 10,000 troops to help with search and rescue efforts, and to deliver food, water and clothing to flood victims, according to the Associated press.

Federal efforts like these are needed to rebuild infrastructure and care for victims. At the same time, when disaster strikes, social connections play a critical role in keeping people safe and enabling them to bounce back, according to a body of research by Daniel Aldrichprofessor of political science and public policy at Northeastern.

So, in the days and weeks following these devastating floods, what should people in the region do? Aldrich, who leads the Security and Resilience Studies program, offers insight.

Aldrich suggests these first five actions for someone in the flood zone, now that the acute danger has passed:

  1. Contact your neighbors to find out what they need at this point, such as medical attention, food, shelter, phones to reach missing loved ones, etc.
  2. Speak with local government officials, disaster workers, and elected officials to tell them about system vulnerabilities, including what failed, what wasn’t ready, and how long it took for help. emergency is coming.
  3. Work to improve the physical infrastructure of one’s own residence to be more resilient to future flooding. For example: put goods that could be damaged on the second floor and keep drinking water available out of the flood zone.
  4. Start working on bottom-up community plans to build local connections, trust and cooperation to prepare for the next shock.
  5. Push to end the corruption of the South African government, which diverted much of the money earmarked for COVID-19 relief, in hopes that the money will reach vulnerable communities this time around.

On this last point, Aldrich and Ramaphosa agree.

“There can be no room for corruption, mismanagement or fraud of any kind,” Ramaphosa said. mentioned during a televised address on Monday.

“Learning from the experience of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are bringing together various stakeholders to be part of an oversight structure to ensure that all funds disbursed to respond to this disaster are properly accounted for and that the state gets what it pays for,” he said. mentioned.

As the federal government continues to triage disaster relief, outside relief efforts have also begun. Donation from the Givers Foundationthe largest African-based non-governmental disaster response organization on the continent, is fundraising to help flood-affected communities.

Aldrich also has some suggestions for people outside of the immediate flood zone looking to help:

  1. Do not donate material goods like clothing, water, or food unless local survivors specifically request it.
  2. Work, where possible, through local foundations and faith-based organizations with low overhead and clear recognition of needs on the ground.

And, he says, it’s time for government officials and communities to start thinking long-term about disaster resilience.

“Floods like this will become more regular and more powerful with climate change,” Aldrich said, adding that we must “work to build the social and physical infrastructure that vulnerable communities need in advance.”

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