By Moses Magadza in Port Louis, Mauritius | 2023-11-25
The 54th Plenary Assembly Session of the SADC Parliamentary Forum (SADC PF) got underway here on Wednesday with the Prime Minister of Mauritius, Pravind Kumar Jugnauth, stressing on the critical role of national parliaments in responding to often devastating natural disasters like cyclones.
Jugnauth, who officially opened the Plenary Assembly Session, said while MPs typically represent their respective countries and national Parliaments, they are united by a shared commitment to promote regional cooperation and solidarity, in line with the SADC agenda of regional integration.
“We view the Forum as an indispensable platform for advancing parliamentary cooperation within SADC. Our commitment to SADC is resolute, and we remain fully committed to working closely with fellow member States to collectively tackle both regional and global challenges that our region faces,” he said.
He contended that parliaments play a central role in establishing and strengthening the vital link between governments and the citizens they serve.
The theme of the 54th Plenary Assembly is ‘The Role of Parliaments in Promoting Coordination for Enhanced Disaster Risk Reduction and Recovery Planning in the SADC Region’.
The prime minister (PM) said it was timely and relevant as it underscores the pivotal role Parliaments play in addressing the ever-growing challenges posed by natural disasters and climate change within the SADC region.
“The SADC region is no stranger to the grim realities of natural disasters and their devastating impacts on our individual countries and local communities,” the PM said, adding that the region had experienced cyclones, droughts and floods which have wreaked havoc.
“These natural disasters have not only caused extensive damage to vital infrastructure but have also claimed numerous lives. They have disrupted communities, placed a heavy burden on our economies, and most significantly, eroded the progress we have made in our development endeavours.”
He said Parliaments were entrusted with the solemn duty to not only enact laws and shape public policies, but also to allocate resources judiciously. In carrying out these responsibilities, they play a crucial role in ensuring that the voices of their citizens are not only heard, but also actively addressed.
He reasoned: “In times of disasters, this duty assumes even greater significance. It is the Legislature’s fundamental responsibility to ensure that our countries have the necessary legal and policy frameworks to mitigate risks, respond to disasters effectively, and facilitate recovery and reconstruction.”
The PM stressed that the role of the Legislature extends beyond the realm of legislation.
“It is essential for the Parliaments to actively facilitate partnerships among key stakeholders, including governments, civil society, the private sector and international organisations, in order to contribute to a comprehensive approach to disaster risk reduction,” he stated.
Turning to Mauritius’ widely admired resilience in responding to natural disasters, Honourable Jugnauth said due to the constant threat of extreme weather events, his government had enacted the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act in 2016 which established a statutory Council and a strategic framework to mitigate the risks of disasters and prepare for recovery.
“Our National Policy on Disaster Risk Reduction and Management (2020-2030) adopts a modern approach that is community-centred and tailor-made to empower individuals to build resilience to surmount the adverse consequences of natural disasters,” he said.
He hoped that resolutions of the 54th SADC PF Plenary Assembly would contribute to making the SADC region a safer place that is conscious of the need for climate change governance as well as disaster preparedness.
The Plenary Assembly coincides with the International Day for the Elimination of violence against Women commemorated on November 25, 2023. The PM said his Government ‘adopts a zero tolerance approach with respect to all forms of gender-based violence’.
He added: “The theme of this Plenary Assembly also resonates with the protection of women since it is well known that climate disasters tend to aggravate the circumstances and vulnerabilities of women who may lose shelter, their possessions or even their employment pursuant to extreme weather events around the world.”
He reiterated that the theme challenges everyone to rise to demonstrate commitment to the well-being of the people and sustainable development.
Over the last decade, the SADC region has faced weather events which are increasingly severe and hazardous, resulting in unprecedented casualty counts and unforeseen economic shocks. These have necessitated the need for disaster management.
It is now firmly established that global warming occasioned by the release of greenhouse gas emissions in the earth’s atmosphere cause a notable increase in the earth’s temperature, which exacerbate the devastating strength of weather events.
For instance, Cyclone Idai in 2019 left a devastating trail of thousands of homeless and injured people and a death toll exceeding 1200 as it raged through Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe.
Similarly, Cyclone Freddy in 2023 was one of the longest-living cyclones in history and hit island states and continental Southern Africa causing vast infrastructural damage and human casualties.
Humanitarian teams on the field have reported over a hundred settlement relocations which were necessary due to the vehemence of the cyclone’s destructive passage.
After heavy rainfall periods in summer months, the effects of climate change in winter invariably lead to the onset of dry weather conditions that cause the onset of droughts and immense losses to agriculture. Moreover, fish and animal migration due to the abrupt weather changes cause losses to biodiversity and affect food security.
According to the United Nations, limiting global warming to the target of a maximum of 1.5 degrees entails that greenhouse gas emissions may peak before 2025 at latest but must later decline to 43 per cent by 2030.
Already, several countries in SADC have subscribed to the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (2015-2030) which aims to provide a new perspective to disaster management by motivating for a pro-active rather than reactive approach, that includes economic, structural, legal, health, cultural and technological considerations that may strengthen countries’ resilience to prepare for the onset of disasters, be it natural or man-made.
Weather experts and observers across the Southern Hemisphere have already established that the El-Nino (global warming) weather patterns will continue to adversely influence the climate in the summer of 2023-2024.
This also applies to the SADC region where heatwaves and soaring temperatures have already been felt in certain locations since September 2023. Experts have observed that weather events in SADC disproportionately affect the most vulnerable individuals such as disabled persons, women and children.
In this regard, it is imperative for Parliament to reduce inequalities and for instance, support gender mainstreaming in climate change responses such that disaster preparedness becomes an inclusive process which includes the voice of both women and men.
The theme of the 2023 UN International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction, commemorated on the 13th of October this year, was “Fighting Inequality for a Resilient Future” which also resonated with the need for Parliaments to act to assemble and lead inclusive partnerships that can enhance structured Disaster Risk Reduction strategies.
The Plenary Assembly is the highest decision body of the SADC PF which brings together 15 national parliaments of the SADC region. The Speaker of the National Assembly of Seychelles, Honourable Roger Mancienne, is the current President of SADC PF and is presiding over this Plenary Assembly Session.
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