Last year, southern Africa was host to two contradictory events. The first, the World
Summit on Sustainable Development, optimistically aimed to map forward a path to global
sustainability. The second, the launching of a series of international humanitarian
assistance appeals, aimed more fundamentally at averting the devastating consequences
of regional famine.
That these events, one promising to ensure our future collective security, and the other, a
desperate plea to avert current human hardship and widespread suffering, should occur
concurrently in the same region, underlines the many contradictions and disconnects in
prevailing development policy and practice – especially as they apply to the management
of disaster risk – and particularly as these relate to southern Africa.
This article will reflect on the challenges of implementing disaster risk reduction in southern
Africa, a region not historically regarded as “disaster-prone”, with specific reference to
southern Africa’s current humanitarian emergency.
The paper will begin by reflecting the present status of humanitarian need in famineaffected
countries and possible explanations for the severity of the impact. This will be
followed by a reflection on the dilemmas and divisions that have shaped disaster mitigation
efforts in southern Africa. In this context, specific attention will be given to factors that have
discouraged greater national ownership of disaster risk within southern Africa, along with
the challenges of bridging historic divisions between disaster reduction and development
Ailsa Holloway is the director of the Disaster Mitigation for Sustainable Livelihoods Programme, (DiMP), at the University
of Cape Town.