Climate change in the Western Cape : a disaster risk assessment of the impact on human health

Louw, E. J. M. (2007-12)

Thesis (DPhil (Geography and Environmental Studies))—University of Stellenbosch, 2007.


Background The Disaster Management Act (Act 57 of 2002) instructs a paradigm shift from preparedness, response and recovery towards risk reduction. In order to plan for and mitigate risks, all spheres of government must firstly assess their hazards, vulnerabilities, capacity to cope and therefore risks. Studies in this regard, in South Africa, have however only focussed on current risks. Climate Change has now been accepted by leading international studies as a reality. Climate change can impact upon many aspects of life on earth. Studies to quantify the impact of climate change on water resources, biodiversity, agriculture and sustainable development are steadily increasing, but human health seem to have been neglected. Only general predictions, mostly regarding vector-borne disease and injury related to natural disasters are found in literature. Studies in South Africa have only focussed on malaria distribution. Most studies, internationally and the few in South Africa, were based on determining empirical relationships between weather parameters and disease incidence, therefore assessing only the hazard, and not the disaster risk. Methodology This study examines the impact of climate change on human health in the Western Cape, within the context of disaster management. A qualitative approach is followed and includes: · A literature overview examining predicted changes in climate on a global and regional scale, · A discussion on the known relationships and possible impacts climate change might have on human health, · A disaster risk assessment based on the status quo for a case study area, the Cape Winelands District Municipality, · An investigation into the future risks in terms of health, taking into account vulnerabilities and secondary impacts of climate change, resulting in the prioritisation of future risks. · Suggestions towards mitigation within the South African context. Results The secondary impacts of climate change were found to have the larger qualitative impact. The impact of climate change on agriculture, supporting 38% of the population can potentially destroy the livelihoods of the workforce, resulting in poverty-related disease. Other impacts identified were injuries and disease relating to temperature, floods, fire and water quality. Conclusion Risk is a function of hazard, vulnerability and capacity to cope. The impact of an external factor on a ‘spatial system’ should be a function of the impacts on all these factors. Disasters are not increasing because of the increase in the frequency of hazards, but because of the increasing vulnerability to hazards. This study illustrated that the major impacts of the external factor could actually be on the vulnerabilities and the indirect impacts, and not on the hazard itself. Climate change poses a threat to many aspects of the causative links that should be addressed by disaster management, and its impacts should be researched further to determine links and vulnerabilities. This research also illustrates that slow onset disasters hold the potential to destroy just as much as extreme events such as Katrina, Rita or a tsunami. It also reiterates that secondary impacts may not be as obvious, but are certainly not of secondary importance.

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