New UFH study prepares authorities for climate-related disaster in urban coastal cities

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Despite coastal cities being at high risk of climate change disasters, huge gaps remain in planning and distributing information on disaster mitigation and climate change adaptation strategies at a local government level, new research by UFH found.

Data gathered in East London by researchers Dr. Emmanuel Busayo and Professor Ahmed Kalumba from the University’s Department of Geography and Environmental Science shows that planning and community knowledge of a disaster plan was lacking.

Busayo and Kalumba examined progress in East London to achieve goals towards linking climate change adaptation (CCA) and disaster risk reduction (DRR).

One essential element of both these strategies to mitigate against climate change, the researchers point out, is for all stakeholders to devise and implement a sustainable plan to deal with the potentially disastrous effects of climate change on coastal cities.

Currently, 40% of the world’s population lives within 100 km of the coast and coastal settlements, some in low-lying areas, are growing fast. Coastal cities are at higher risk of rising sea levels, increased temperatures, storm surges and flooding - all linked to climate change.

The researchers pointed out that in South Africa, there is the additional issue of the legacy of apartheid urban planning leading to cities that remain segregated and a concentration of socio-economic marginalised communities.

The study underscores the importance of understanding potentially affected communities and their ability to respond to disasters. It also stresses how essential it was for decision-makers to ascertain the ability of communities, families, and individuals to anticipate, cope, and recover from the effects of disasters. 

“These approaches are very key in the integration of vulnerable groups in disaster plans and policies, evacuation management and community

planning to attenuate the impacts of disaster,” the paper reads.

The paper also stresses that the community must be allowed to participate in formulating disaster plans and mitigation strategies and that indigenous knowledge must be obtained and incorporated.

“Communities with strong locally-driven disaster plans respond better in disaster conditions,” the researchers cautioned.

The study focused on East London, a coastal city in South Africa’s Eastern Cape. South Africa’s four coastal cities, Cape Town, Durban, Gqeberha (previously known as Port Elizabeth) and East London, face the threat of flooding by 2050 due to the rising sea levels exacerbated by climate change. 

The paper states there is  “considerable doubt” about the city’s climate resilience.”

Only a few people (13.5%) knew about the availability of community disaster plans.

The research included responses from multi-stakeholders in the East London Buffalo City Metropolitan Municipality.

Respondents identified poverty, poor housing units and malnutrition as factors that would aggravate climate change-related disasters.

Further data showed that East London communities would find it difficult to recover from disasters due to the following factors: 

  • A lack of household emergency plans,
  • A shortage of  funds,
  • Not enough assistance and support from local government
  • A lack of information regarding disaster issues, 
  • Not enough support in rebuilding households, 
  • The loss of belongings, 
  • Loss of lives and property, 
  • Loss of valuables
  • Low crop yields

“This study concludes that there are a lot of climate disaster challenges that require attention, for example, lack of response and support from local government, poor correspondence among stakeholders, poor and financial capacity among others.

“Implementing lessons learnt from this study warrants numerous efforts. Further work that respects the importance of indigenous knowledge is needed,” the researcher added advocating for the inclusion of indigenous people in policymaking at every level of government,” the paper concluded.

“Sensitising the community on the importance of communicating with disaster managers should be critically emphasised in a bid to make them know the benefits of a disaster preparedness plan,” the paper continues.

“Consequently, local and indigenous knowledge and practices can be instilled to improve disaster preparedness plans,” the paper continues adding that if successfully coupled with scientific research and solid policy this can become a powerful strategy to mitigate against disaster.

The researchers warned that there are also “various gaps in current research” as to what the most effective way would be to disseminate information on disaster plans.

Electronic media is often used to provide information, the data shows.

“The disadvantage of these methods of information dissemination is that there might be unconfirmed information or just gainsaying from family and friends. On the other hand information from the electronic media can only be received when people are available to listen to the radio or watch television, hence, early warning information is not received by people on a large scale. Since dissemination of information is central to disaster response, this process under disaster cannot rely on the public to serve themselves with information.”