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South Africa’s national state of disaster: what does it mean?

South Africa’s national state of disaster: what does it mean?
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa (C) and Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs of South Africa, Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma (R), speak to various grievi   -  
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PHILL MAGAKOE/AFP or licensors

South Africa

President, Cyril Ramaphosa on Monday declared a state of disaster in South Africa following the devastating floods that have claimed at least 443 lives in the port city of Durban, according latest report by the AFP.

"The cabinet met in special session last night and decided to declare a state of national disaster," the head of state said in a televised address on Monday (April 18), referring to the situation as "a humanitarian disaster".

This declaration comes two weeks after President Cyril Ramaphosa lifted a two-year-long national state of disaster, which was due to the global health crisis (Covid 19) that posed a serious threat to the lives of the people.

According to the president, the declaration of the National State of Disaster on 15 March 2020 empowered government to take the measures that prevented many more people from becoming severely ill and saved countless lives.

Perhaps the results derived from the covid 19 declaration may have fueled the decision for the latest state of the disaster declaration.

what does it mean?

“the conversations “ article on the state of disaster explains the state of disaster intends to deal with emergencies such as natural disasters, explosions, terrorism or sieges, but it can also be used to deal with “a plague or an epidemic”.

In January 2020, the same approach was adopted in Victoria during the bushfires.

In the case of South Africa, the Disaster Management Act 2002 assigns various powers and duties to the national disaster management centre. The act allows the national executive to implement a measure that aims at assisting and protecting the public and property as well as providing relief.

This will include directing and coordinating the activities of all government agencies and also allocating government resources as necessary to respond to the disaster.

This fits well into the vision of the latest declaration by president Ramaphosa as reported by the AFP.

It is not clear how long the current state of disaster will last. According to the Victorian equal opportunity and human rights commission, “State of disaster powers can be in place for up to one month, but this period can also be extended. There does not appear to be any cap on the time the state of disaster can be extended for.” This explains the reason for a two-year long state of disaster declaration, which ended in South Africa weeks ago.

Human Rights debate

While this measure is aimed at providing relief for affected communities and individuals, another school of thought also argue that the declaration of a state of disaster can sometimes infringe on the rights of individuals.

For instance, the Victorian equal opportunity and human rights commission The state of disaster powers allow for restrictions on the movement of people in and out of a disaster area, which may include preventing residents in affected areas from moving freely when and where they wish. This may affect the right to freedom of movement.

Last week, at the peak of the disaster, local authorities had cautioned residents in the worst affected area, KwaZulu-Natal Province, South Africa to stay indoors as the meteorological institute had predicted more rains.

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