In its consideration of Disaster Risk and Resilience (DRR), the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) defines ‘resilience’ as ‘…the ability of a system, community or society exposed to hazards to resist, absorb, accommodate to, and recover from the effects of a hazard in a timely and efficient manner.’
It is a common notion that most disasters result from the action or inaction of people and that this is further compounded by people living in ways that degrade their environment, due to a lack of development and over-population. These challenges test the resilience of many communities on a daily basis.
In South Africa, many informal communities are often established in areas that are annually susceptible to floods thus placing them in situations of high vulnerability and thus adversely impacting their socio-economic condition. South Africa is home to a large number of immigrants, most of whom are economic and political immigrants in need of basic amenities. This sector of the population often ends up living in informal communities where poverty and vulnerability are often closely related. As the underprivileged often lack assets and access to amenities that would ordinarily serve as a buffer from environmental degradation, the interaction of economic and social factors, with environmental change can amplify their vulnerability.
The increase in social and economic vulnerability is often as a result of reduced resilience due to drought, land degradation, and other factors which may cause the direct loss of livelihood and ultimately trigger conflict over critical and often limited resources such as fresh water, energy and food. Increased vulnerability places a community on a trajectory of greater risk.
Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) intervention with respect to DRR is still one of the least understood initiatives in the South African development paradigm, although the concept and practice of corporate sector involvement in social development is not new in South Africa. However, corporate contribution in disaster risk reduction has remained minimal if not insignificant. Currently, CSR is based on policies and activities that do not directly address DRR. Most companies implement their CSR projects through their own CSR project management initiatives, confining benefit to people living in the vicinity of their operations. Most CSR interventions address issues of health and education. There is therefore a case to be made for NGOs and civil society in general to get actively involved in DRR to thus influence and encourage increased involvement of CSR in DRR.
Government policy initiatives are also pushing the case of CSR as seen with respect to Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment (B-BBEE) with its inclusion of Social Economic Development (SED) on its score card. B-BBEE provides a directive that one percent of net profit after tax (NPAT) of companies should be used by companies to meet socio economic targets for CSR. As a result companies should now have an improved understanding of the negative impacts of disasters on the growth patterns, but as this is not the case, there is a need for clear policy considerations and guidelines on CSR on DRR issues.
Relevant South African socio-economic factors require the joint effort of civil society, government and the corporate sector to effectively address DRR. The scope is enormous considering the number of listed companies on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE), and in particular when one considers that as of 2012 there are now 77 SRI constituents and that this number is growing annually.
Needless to say, that there exists a huge, untapped potential for civil society to encourage the corporate sector intervention into DRR as a means of ensuring national resilience. CSR in South Africa requires a review which can be undertaken by civil society, in consultation with the National Disaster Management Center (NDMC) to thus define CSR interventions for DRR. It could also identify possible projects for risk reduction and resilience enhancement and possible incentives for CSR that focuses on DRR initiatives. This approach may potentially encourage and support the Small and Medium Enterprises (SME) sector to play an active role through CSR in addressing DRR, in order to reach out to the more remote and often the least resourced areas. From an advocacy point of view, beyond the training of communities, NGOs and civil society can encourage the sound enforcement of regulations that limit the building of settlements in flood prone areas. All stakeholders could therefore be brought on board to assist in determining the most cost effective approaches to addressing rural and urban resilience.
In the long-term, the NDMC and such a policy review consideration may lead to the development of a framework that would oversee the establishment and allocation of emergency resources, and the adoption of best practice case studies of CSR initiatives focused on DRR.
Lastly, it is contended that appropriate policy guidelines on required interventions in DRR under CSR, will give direction to the corporate sector in South Africa, which has the potential to make a significant contribution in enhancing our national resilience.
- Janine Mosetlhi is Managing Director of Dara Consulting (PTY) LTD.