Source: The Conversation, August 25, 2020, photo credit: NBS
Following heavy rains in November 2016, flash floods washed through the Setswetla informal settlement adjacent to Alexandra in Johannesburg. The floods destroyed several dozen houses and a child was killed.
Local government and civil society first responders were on the scene quickly to assess the damage and affirm their support to the residents. A textbook response would have involved steps like assessing damage, providing first aid and shelter, and developing a strategy to prevent a future, similar disaster.
In this case, however, things worked a little differently. Urban policy makers and humanitarian actors did indeed provide aid to those who lost their houses. But they also planned for an oversupply of material – all in an effort to prevent tensions from escalating. This response pointed to the fact that relief actors in situations such as those in Alexandra have to engage with underlying vulnerabilities and divisions in the communities they serve. Textbook models don’t account for this.