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July/August 2005

The role of local institutions in reducing vulnerability to recurrent natural disasters and in sustainable livelihoods development: Case study South Africa

This report was drawn up for the Department of Social Services and Poverty Alleviation of the Provincial Government of the Western Cape. It was co-financed by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and the Provincial Development Council of the Western Cape.

In the third week of March 2003, a powerful weather system swept across the South Western Cape triggering widespread loss, damage and human hardship. With national attention focused on the Montagu-Ashton area, a national state of disaster was declared by the State President on 4 April, in the Magisterial Districts of Montagu, Robertson and Swellendam.

The weather system, a powerful ‘cut-off low’, is attributed with three deaths in Hermanus and Knysna, as well as major impacts on agriculture and the roads network. An estimated R212 million in direct economic losses were attributed to the weather system and the riverine floods that followed. Moreover, hundreds of rain-affected households were temporarily evacuated, and in the months following the extreme weather event, significant increases in child illness were recorded in health facilities in the areas affected by the cut-off low.

The Department of Social Services and Poverty Alleviation of the Provincial Government of the Western Cape, along with the Provincial Development Council and the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation took the initiative to co-finance research that recorded the March 2003 cut-off low and related floods. Due to the multi-sectoral character of the disaster event, a multidisciplinary team was formed for this research.

Comprising specialists in climate research, flood hydrology, land-use, social risk assessment, disaster management and disaster impact analysis, the team compiled an extensive report on the March 2003 cut-off low. The report is intended to illustrate the interrelationships between the physical aspects of the hazard process (i.e. the cut-off low and floods), patterns of social vulnerability and the role of intervening institutional mechanisms to mediate the impact of extreme weather events. Each chapter of the report is also written to provide in-depth detail for specialists with sector-specific interests. Moreover, the report is also viewed as a general methodology guide for those tasked with carrying out post-disaster assessments.

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