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Harnessing the role of information in disaster risk management

Harnessing the role of information in disaster risk management

By Kizito Sikuka in Johannesburg, South Africa

“We cannot stop natural disasters, but we can arm ourselves with knowledge so that many lives would not have to be lost if there was enough disaster preparedness.”

These words by Petra Němcová – one of the most famous philanthropist who founded an organization that helps victims of natural disasters to rebuild their lives – provide a reminder that it is possible for the global community to cope and address the daunting challenges posed by natural disasters.

The Southern African Development Community (SADC) has over the past few decades experienced an increasing frequency and severity of droughts that were attributed to climate change and variability, resulting in food insecurity. The region experienced the worst drought in 35 years during the 2015/16 agriculture season.

The frequent droughts have seen the number of food-insecure people in the region remaining above 22 million per year since 2010, according to the SADC Secretariat.

So what are SADC member states doing to strengthen their capacity to deal with natural disasters such as floods and droughts whose increasing frequency and severity threatens to destabilize the region?

“We have put in place a number of measures both at the national and regional level to address the impact of natural disasters in southern Africa,” Rachel Nandelenga, communication and advocacy officer for the SADC Regional Vulnerability Assessment and Analysis (RVAA) Programme, said at a regional communication and advocacy workshop currently underway in Johannesburg, South Africa.

One such strategy is the establishment of the Vulnerability Assessment and Analysis (VAA) system in 1999 that seeks to monitor the capacity of households in SADC member states to deal with external hazards.

Some of the critical elements of the VAA include meteorological and crop production projections, household economic analysis and food and nutrition security surveys.

For example, each year a report that provides an overview of the food security and livelihoods situation in the region is produced and disseminated to stakeholders, including policymakers, to allow them to effectively plan and prepare before a natural disaster occurs.

The VAA system is implemented through multi-sectoral national vulnerability assessment committees that consist of relevant government ministries, non-governmental organizations and international cooperating partners.

Currently, a total of 14 SADC member states have fully functional vulnerability assessment committees. The remaining two countries, the Union of Comoros and Mauritius, are expected to establish the committees soon. Comoros is the newest member of SADC.

To complement the national assessment committees, SADC established the Regional Vulnerability Assessments Committee (RVAC) in 2000 to guide and coordinate the implementation of the VAA system at country and regional levels.

The RVAC has now come up with a RVAA programme, which aims to strengthen the capacity of member states to undertake and utilize vulnerability assessments to inform policy formulation, development programmes and emergency interventions that lead to a reduction in vulnerability in the region.

Coordinated by the Disaster Risk Reduction Unit (DRRU) at the SADC Secretariat, the programme aims to further integrate VAA systems into member state administrative and financial structures to ensure smooth implementation of the programme.

Since its establishment in 2006, the RVAA programme has made significant strides in providing timely and credible information that has influenced policies, and its products are now a vital reference point for decision makers in addressing food and nutrition security issues.

However, communication experts meeting in Johannesburg to discuss the SADC RVAA said there is need to develop an effective communication strategy aimed at creating a greater understanding of the programme and its products.

To this end, a Communication and Advocacy Plan covering the period 2018-2021 has been drafted to mobilize support and resources, as well as to create a conducive environment for the implementation of VAA activities and improve the production, packaging, dissemination, and utilization of VAA products.

The draft Communication and Advocacy Plan proposes a number of strategies, including the need to have RVAC communication and advocacy focal persons at member state level.

The SADC RVAA communication and advocacy workshop, which runs from 19-21 November, is reviewing and validating the draft RVAA Programme Communication and Advocacy Plan, and equipping communication persons with skills to effectively communicate and disseminate VAA products.


About The Author

SADC Correspondent

SADC correspondents are independent contributors whose work covers regional issues of southern Africa outside the immediate Namibian ambit. Ed.

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