South Africa’s Human Settlements Minister, Mmamoloko Kubayi, has said that from 1st April 2023, the department will take over the implementation of the emergency housing programme.
This will effectively see the provincial emergency housing grant and the municipal emergency housing grant come to an end. It will also result in the department being able to respond faster to assist those affected by disasters.
Announcing policy changes to accelerate performance in the housing sector at a media briefing in Cape Town, Kubayi said the increase in the frequency of natural disasters and the severity of the devastation requires a Human Settlements disaster response that is swift and appropriate for alleviating the plight of the affected.
The Minister acknowledged that the department’s response has been “underwhelming and slow”, resulting in disaster victims finding themselves without homes two to three years after disaster has struck.
“In some instances, people have been in temporary structures for more than 15 years when the policy says these structures must be replaced within six months,” Kubayi said.
She attributed the inadequate response to long delays in applications for disaster grant funding from affected municipalities and provinces due to the lack of skills for assessment of disasters at a provincial and municipal level; the dysfunctional municipalities due to political instability, and prolonged delays in land acquisition, which frustrates the process of temporarily accommodating people.
“We also realise that the method of the allocation of funds amongst the provinces was sub-optimal, as some provinces are more prone to disasters than others,” Kubayi said.
Working with National Treasury, the Minister said, the department has determined that the response to disasters will be more effective when managed at a national level.
“This also means that emergency funds will be available for deployment to the affected areas at the time of need, rather than being appropriated to a province or municipality that does not experience a disaster during the financial year.
“We believe that this approach will enhance collaborative planning amongst the three spheres of government, in anticipation of disasters and simplify the response so that we optimise funds allocation across the country and improve the response time,” Kubayi said.
However, Kubayi emphasised that provinces and municipalities are expected to ensure that they still attend to all outstanding households, whose properties were destroyed in previous disasters and are yet to receive assistance, despite the municipalities and provinces having received funding for those disasters.
Emergency Housing Command Centre
As part of implementing the emergency housing programme in the new financial year, the Minister said the Emergency Housing Command Centre has been established to coordinate the national disaster response.
“It will have linkages to the South African Weather Service and provide the ability to receive early warning alerts to enable the proactive mobilisation of resources to respond to imminent disaster.
“This will also link to the National Disaster Centre and will not work in a competitive or contradictory manner. This allows communities direct access to report incidents via email at EHR@dhs.gov.za,” the Minister explained.
In addition, a disaster management team, which combines and leverages the skills and capacity of the department and departmental entities – including the Housing Development Agency, National Home Builders Regulatory Council, and the National Housing Finance Corporation – has been created.
“A framework has been developed, which includes the definition of the roles and responsibilities, the implementation guidelines and the Standard Operating Procedure. This team is ready to commence with the work on 1 April 2023.
“We have further decided that instead of providing Temporary Residential Units (TRUs) for disaster-affected households, we will introduce a permanent solution through Alternative Building Technology (ABT), particularly in rural areas where mud houses often disintegrate during severe rainfall,” Kubayi said.
Other measures will include the provision of vouchers for affected households to enable them to build their own homes; the provision of building material for residents in informal settlements to rebuild in the same location or to relocate to safer land, working alongside social facilitators, and the provision of Transitional Emergency Accommodation (TEA), which could include using various identified vacant government buildings across the country that can be transformed into habitable environments.