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23 November 2023

New perspectives on mitigating the impact of disasters in Africa

Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC)

HSRC attends the Disaster Risk Management Conference in Maputo.

Africa needs to mitigate the impact of disasters by networking, collaborating and creating virtual platforms to share data, knowledge and technology for early warning systems. These were some of the resolutions made at the latest Disaster Risk Management (DRM) Conference, which HSRC researchers attended in Maputo, Mozambique from 8–10 November 2023.

As climate change continues to influence global environments, it also increases the risk of disasters, which often destroy livelihoods and property, damage ecosystems, and cause the loss of life. Social scientists are concerned about the devastating effect of disasters on people’s lives, which is why the HSRC are working alongside other researchers and stakeholders to build a body of work aimed at mitigating the impact of disasters in Africa caused by human action and natural hazards.

The researchers have been presenting case studies, papers, videos, and posters focused on preventative action at DRM conferences held in various African countries. The first conference, Investing in Disaster Management for Sustainable Development, was held at Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, in October 2022 and attracted over 120 participants from all over the world. Later, and with input from HSRC CEO Prof Sarah Mosoetsa, it was decided that all future conferences would be held under an overarching theme titled the Climate Change and Futures in Africa Conference Series.

The Maputo conference was the second in the series, titled Towards Local Solutions to Early Warning and Disaster Risk Reduction in the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) and Beyond. Several other national institutions participated, including the National Disaster Management Centre, University of Fort Hare, Institute of Natural Resources, Walter Sisulu University, the University of the Free State, Durban University of Technology, University of South Africa, and University of KwaZulu-Natal.

International participants included the Global Network of Civil Society Organisations for Disaster Reduction, IHE Delft Institute for Water Education in the Netherlands, the Unites Nations World Food Programme, the Instituto Nacional de Gestão e Redução do Risco de Desastres and Eduardo Mondlane University in Mozambique, as well as the Midlands State University, Bindura University of Science Education and the Great Zimbabwe University in Zimbabwe.

Participants at the second DRM conference presented ideas, research, and strategies on how policymakers and societies living in Africa, and particularly the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region can respond quickly and effectively to disaster events. This event in the series focused on early warning and disaster risk reduction initiatives to respond to disasters caused by cyclones, droughts, and floods.

Keynote speakers Prof. Hillary Inyang and Dr Kyla Briggs called for enabling environments and focused on how international organisations (including United Nations agencies, think tanks, development banks, and academics) can help Africa to develop an implementational agenda with concrete targets. Many researchers also presented important new perspectives on the risk of future disasters and the changes needed to mitigate these risks. For example, one interesting paper titled The Costs of Climate Inaction for the SADC provided estimates of the loss and damage likely caused by climate-related events in the SADC region over the next 20 years. These estimates were obtained by looking at the impact of extreme weather over the last 20 years, how much of this was attributable to climate change, and making risk assessments for the next 20 years.

The panel discussion also provided some key insights into avoiding disasters. For example, panellists presented design and construction strategies that would allow buildings to withstand high winds and large water discharges. A positive insight from the panel was that with the careful use of scarce resources and the right funding and approach, local skills and knowledge can be leveraged to build resilience and address vulnerabilities before a major natural event occurs.

An important conference resolution centred on sharing data resources, exchanging ideas, knowledge and technologies related to early warning, and adaptation and resilience building. Suggestions for sharing emphasised virtual platforms, local initiatives, and institutions for networking and collaboration. Moreover, the consensus was that the focus needed to be on strategies for youth involvement in DRM through capacity building and research career workshops on scientific writing.

Going forward, conferences in the Climate Change and Futures in Africa Conference Series will be held biannually. The HSRC is also in the process of publishing proceedings in academic journals and producing policy briefs to be published by the HSRC Press.

Watch the proceedings in the playlist below:

Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC)

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