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This case study documents the development of the urban component of Oxfam in South Africa’s Disaster Risk Reduction Program for the period 2011 to 2014.

Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) programmes are designed to proactively reduce risks and hazards before disasters occur. Oxfam worked with three existing partners to understand and then design DRR interventions to mitigate potential risks and hazards stemming from South Africa’s existing vulnerabilities of a physical, environmental, personal, historical and political nature. Such an approach means not only that losses experienced in disasters are reduced, but also that quality of life can be improved.

The programme that was developed recognised that vulnerability to disasters is created and sustained by poverty and inequality, so it was designed to engage with broad contextual issues and align with existing long-term development programs. Findings include the severe problems experienced by communities in dealing with “the authorities”; how flooding, fire and unsafe electrical connections are affecting informal, urban settlements; and how women feel particularly vulnerable to poverty, gender inequality, violence and HIV-related disasters. The study recognises the importance of the political perspectives of poverty, and the importance of identifying the political environment within which programmes must operate.

The document reflects on the experiences of the partners: Refugee Social Services based in Durban; Project Empower from a peri-urban settlement outside Durban; and Sophakama a community development organisation working in an informal settlement outside Port Elizabeth. They came to the project with very different approaches and programs. Their conclusion: “DRR is not a programme but an approach to programming”.

This document is one of a number of publications highlighting NGO good practice and innovations from partner organisations supported by Oxfam in South Africa.

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