The contribution of Disaster Risk Assessment to improved Social Impact Assessment in South Africa
People are at the heart of sustainable development and entitled to an uncompromised sustainable future with a balanced life in harmony with a protected environment, economic development and social well-being. Global political commitments promised a brighter future to advance sustainable development for future generations and laid the basis for Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and Social Impact Assessment (SIA) globally. Moreover, the adoption of global strategies increased awareness of the vulnerabilities of people and proclaimed the future of Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR). SIA internationally evolved as an integrated component within the broader context of EIA. South Africa has a similar EIA-bound scenario and SIA forms part of EIA as a social specialist report that informs EIA development planning. Despite considerable improvements in SIA after five EIA regimes, SIA in South Africa is firmly embedded in EIA and not considered as an assessment in its own right. One of SIA’s unique attributes is that it assists with the resolution of social conflicts, and the effects of proposed interventions on people’s vulnerabilities and social well-being. DRR shares similar characteristics and focuses on the strategic levels of Disaster Risk Management (DRM), where Disaster Risk Assessment (DRA) is a tool for the assessment of potential risks and impacts that developments might have on people. South Africa was one of the first countries in Southern Africa to legislate DRM, thereby embedding DRA firmly as part of disaster management planning. Due to the transdisciplinary nature of SIA and DRA they share many commonalities, however in South Africa they function as two distinct fields of theory and practice with little overlap. The poor quality of SIA reports has been under the magnifying glass, contributing to SIA’s subsidiary status. A shortage of skills to conduct risk assessments and a lack of flexible methodological guidance might have increased SIA’s inadequate performance. While SIA in South Africa is an established field of practice the need for comprehensive, flexible formative methodological guidance prevails. A potential avenue to strengthen the shortfalls of SIA is the emerging international trend of integrated impact assessments, e.g. integrating SIA and DRA. SIA can play a vital role in the understanding of the interaction between future developments and the risk they pose to vulnerable communities in striving to promote a sustainable future. However, the potential SIA-DRA integration and the contribution of DRA to improved SIA in South Africa is poorly understood. Understanding the basis for their future collaboration to improved SIA status and practice in South Africa is worth further exploration. Therefore, the aim of this thesis is to investigate the contribution of DRA to improved SIA in South Africa. This study follows an exploratory mixed-methods research design. The research methods for data collection include indepth literature reviews and document studies, and one-on-one interviews with SIA and DRA specialists including self-administered questionnaires. The essence of the research results is captured in four article manuscripts that form Chapters 2, 3, 4 and 5 of this thesis. Chapter 2 (Article Manuscript 1) highlights the theoretical discourse of integrating SIA and DRA and demonstrates their differences as well as their complementarity to each other through their shared focus, people-centred, multi-stakeholder, and transdisciplinary approach, and promising opportunities for potential integration. Based on the evidence this chapter revealed considerable scope for potential integration to improve SIA, despite their distinct differences. This lead the way to Chapter 3 (Article Manuscript 2) that critically compared the legislative and statutory provisions of SIA and DRA in South Africa to search for potential opportunities to meaningful SIA and DRA integration. The results from the comparison reveal that the dominance of the biophysical paradigm over the social paradigm persists in the legislative requirements concerning SIA, which might be a contributing factor to SIAs subordinate status. Furthermore, in the legislative provisions concerning DRA the social paradigm has a prominent role at the forefront of DRR. The findings highlight SIA and DRA’s shared motives, and suggest that despite their regulatory segregation, integration can be worthwhile. Chapter 4 (Article Manuscript 3) investigated four current discourses in South African SIA and DRA practice that echo international trends: (1) the collaboration of specialists’ shared expertise should be encouraged; (2) the hindrances that specialists experience reflect broad international trends; (3) the need for strengthened rigorous methodological guidance coupled with formal training is emphasised, and special attention is drawn to a lack of guidance for Social Baseline Surveys as an essential component of SIA planning; and (4) integrated assessments are supported by the practitioner communities due to the benefits it might hold for both practices. The results from this manuscript underscore the need for specialists to strive for best practice and encourage the SIA-DRA integration to optimize SIA. Based on this evidence Chapter 5 (Article Manuscript 4) aimed to investigate and compare South African SIA and DRA methodologies in the goal to optimize SIA. A content analysis demonstrated alignments between SIA and DRA guidance documents and corroborated the lack of rigorous Social Baseline Survey guidance. Therefore, this chapter proposes an integrated Social and Disaster Risk Assessment (SDRA) approach to effectively guide inexperienced specialists to comprehensively identify and assess social issues, and thereby assist in improving the quality of SIA reports. This study has shown that SIA can benefit from the integration of aspects of DRA across regulatory commonalities, shared theoretical and practical discourses, and new combined methodologies, and thereby offer opportunities for improved SIA practice and status in South Africa, which could also contribute more effectively to social sustainability and – welfare. This is in line with international trends, therefore going forward the potential value that the contribution of DRA can make to enrich SIA practice should be encouraged.