“A Persistent Truth”—Reflections on Drought Risk Management in Southern Africa

Coleen Vogel ReVAMP Research Group, GAES, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa

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Ingrid Koch ReVAMP Research Group, GAES, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa

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Koos Van Zyl ReVAMP Research Group, GAES, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa

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Abstract

Severe droughts in southern Africa are associated with livelihood impacts, a strain on local economies, and other hardships. Extensive effort has been spent in the past trying to improve responses to periods of extensive drought. There have also been renewed calls for improvements to climate change adaptation by adopting more proactive governance and disaster risk reduction approaches. Few efforts, however, have been made to assess how to learn more from past drought efforts so as to enhance overall resilience to future drought risks. Few have examined the role and contributions of institutions and drought governance, either across spatial scales [from regional (i.e., Southern African Development Community) to national scales (e.g., South Africa) to the very local scale (e.g., Limpopo Province, South Africa)] or across temporal scales (over at least 100 yr). Despite calls for better risk management approaches at all levels, this paper illustrates two points. First, a failure to fully understand, integrate, and learn from past efforts may undermine current and future drought response. Second, state-led drought risk reduction, which remains focused on a financial “bail-out” mentality, with little follow-through on proactive rather than reactive drought responses, is also seriously contributing to the vulnerability of the region to future drought impacts.

Corresponding author address: Coleen Vogel, P. Bag 3, ReVAMP Research Group, GAES, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, 2050 South Africa. Email: coleen.vogel@wits.ac.za

Abstract

Severe droughts in southern Africa are associated with livelihood impacts, a strain on local economies, and other hardships. Extensive effort has been spent in the past trying to improve responses to periods of extensive drought. There have also been renewed calls for improvements to climate change adaptation by adopting more proactive governance and disaster risk reduction approaches. Few efforts, however, have been made to assess how to learn more from past drought efforts so as to enhance overall resilience to future drought risks. Few have examined the role and contributions of institutions and drought governance, either across spatial scales [from regional (i.e., Southern African Development Community) to national scales (e.g., South Africa) to the very local scale (e.g., Limpopo Province, South Africa)] or across temporal scales (over at least 100 yr). Despite calls for better risk management approaches at all levels, this paper illustrates two points. First, a failure to fully understand, integrate, and learn from past efforts may undermine current and future drought response. Second, state-led drought risk reduction, which remains focused on a financial “bail-out” mentality, with little follow-through on proactive rather than reactive drought responses, is also seriously contributing to the vulnerability of the region to future drought impacts.

Corresponding author address: Coleen Vogel, P. Bag 3, ReVAMP Research Group, GAES, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, 2050 South Africa. Email: coleen.vogel@wits.ac.za

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