Disasters such as droughts, floods, fires and oil spills ale familiar events in South Africa. It is common knowledge that such events can destroy and slow down years of development planning and implementation. During the 1980s and 1990s, for example, severe droughts resulted in social and economic losses at both national and local levels. Fires and floods in particular are costly at the local level. Approximately 600 people were left homeless and over 200 shacks destroyed when a fire ravaged a squatter settlement in Alexandra township in July 1996. Local government and organisations were required to provide emergency shelters and provisions. The floods that devastated Laingsburg in 1981 resulted in widespread flood damage and the loss of 104 lives.
Local government is at the forefront of dealing with disasters. Municipal politicians and officials are usually the first people who have to deal with a disaster, and if the disaster is not too large, the municipality is often the only government body involved. This is why municipalities need to be prepared to manage a disaster.
What does the term “disaster” mean?
The term disaster has been described as follows: "Any event (happening with or without warning) causing or threatening death, injury or disease, damage to property, infrastructure or the environment, which exceeds the ability of the affected society to copy using only its own resources.” Disasters are not always caused by physical factors. Several other factors may act together to produce human, environmental and material losses. In order to understand this process it is useful to develop ways with which to deal with disasters and put into place practical plans to manage these disasters if they should occur.
Some definitions of concepts related to disasters Hazards are threats to life, well-being, material goods and the environment. Extreme natural processes or technology causes them. When a hazard results in great suffering or collapse, it is usually termed a disaster. Risk and risk assessment
Risk may be defined as the expected damage or loss caused by any hazard. Risk usually depends on a combination of two factors:
- How often and severe the hazard (e.g., floods and drought).
- Vulnerability of the people exposed to these hazards.
Risk perceptions are very complex as they are rooted in history, politics and economy. Therefore, finding suitable solutions to those at risk is not a simple, straightforward process.
No matter where one is located, whether in an urban or rural environment, one's chances of experiencing a disaster are usually strongly linked to one's vulnerability to the event. The more vulnerable a community, the greater the physical, economic and emotional costs of a disaster. Vulnerability, then, is the degree to which an individual, family, community or region is at risk of experiencing misfortune following extreme events