Western Cape Premier Helen Zille has praised the Garden Route Rebuild Initiative as a model for disaster management and reconstruction in the wake of catastrophe.
Speaking at the Southern Cape Landowner’s Initiative’s Environmental Seminar 2017, which took place at Brenton-on-Sea on November 23, Premier Zille said that the seven work streams established by the GRRI’s coordinating committee have already achieved extraordinary results.
“This year has been particularly challenging for the Western Cape,” she said. “While we’re currently experiencing the worst hydrological disaster of the century, the Garden Route was dealt a heavy blow when fires driven by wind speeds of up to 90 km/h swept through the area.”
She said the response was outstanding.
“Provincial and local authorities, rescue agencies, NGOs, the SAPS, the SANDF, the private sector, and the public at large rallied to deal with the immediate challenges, like relocating the most vulnerable people during the catastrophe.
“Following the devastation of the fires, the Provincial government took decisions to constitute the Garden Route Rebuild Initiative, and also to make R75 m available – not only for the Garden Route, but also for other places that required assistance.”
Ms. Zille said that it was important to establish a dedicated team to coordinate efforts to revive the region.
Dr. Hildegarde Fast, who leads the Western Cape Government’s Energy Security Game Changer, was seconded to manage the programme, and the GRRI steering committee – which includes representatives from the Eden District, Knysna and Bitou Municipalities, as well as national and provincial departments – now meets every fortnight.
“The Garden Route Rebuild Initiative is very much an ongoing project – and one that will become a model for the management of disasters and reconstruction, and perhaps even a tool that we can use before disaster hits,” said Ms. Zille.
Ms. Zille conducted a number of site visits during her time in the Garden Route: she inspected the erosion mitigation and hydro-seeding projects at Brenton-on-Lake, the project to rebuild 45 houses and install services for 150 shacks destroyed by the fire in Knysna’s White Location, and the saltwater desalination plant in Plettenberg Bay. She also met with the political and administrative leadership of Bitou Municipality in the council chambers in Plettenberg Bay.
Speaking at that meeting, Dr. Fast said that authorities were in the habit of responding to disasters in a certain way – but that the GRRI is doing three things differently.
This will make a significant contribution when dealing with other, similar catastrophes.
“The first thing that we’ve done differently is to establish a project management office outside of the three municipalities, but with the participation of officials from those municipalities.
“Secondly, we’ve developed a partnership with the private sector, which has raised money for the disaster – and representatives of the donor fund are intimately involved in the GRRI: they attend our steering committee meetings and our work stream meetings, and they’re part of the planning process, which means that they already understand the vision for projects for which we need funding.
“And the third thing we’ve done differently is the way we’ve approached the concept of disaster recovery – which previously meant restoring the status quo to what it was before the disaster struck.
“We’re saying, no: we want a different, better Bitou and Knysna, where people are more prosperous, more integrated, and better housed than they were before.”
“Under our motto to ‘Build Back Better’ we have, for example, developed a new vision for the region as a skills hub, and we’ve also developed a strategy to improve the housing situation – a strategy that the three mayors and their municipal managers and officials will ratify when they meet on the 11th of December,” said Dr. Fast.
She said that the rebuild strategy – with its six pillars of tourism, light manufacturing, local business, skills development, urban planning, and environmental management – has been presented at community meetings in Knysna and Bitou, where the strategy has been warmly supported.
Premier Zille congratulated everyone involved with the Garden Route Rebuild Initiative.
“I’m very excited about the GRRI because it’s showing us how we can turn the corner in a crisis, and that – despite frustrations and challenges – it is possible to come up with new, innovative solutions to turn disaster into opportunity,” she said.
Media release for the Garden Route Rebuild Initiative by Martin Hatchuel
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