Update on the state of Bitou’s aid to fire victims

Report by: CANDICE LUDICK reports

Although Bitou Municipality has not officially responded to requests for information regarding the distribution of donated aid following the June wildfires, disaster relief experts who have volunteered their services since the establishment of the Joint Operations Control Centre (JOCC) at Plett’s Market Square have provided some useful information - CANDICE LUDICK reports

ACCORDING to Marius Venter and Sally Turner, both of whom have extensive experience in disaster relief, an audit trail of all fire victims who received aid from the JOCC has been kept by means of the following seven-step process:
1. Identify the fire victim; 2. Do a site visit; 3. Get full details of the victim and his/her family; 4. Identify immediate need, short term, medium term, and long term needs (including any animal needs, e.g. dog or cat food); 5. Identify if the structure is legal or not; 6. Fill out requisition form with detail of goods to be sent; 6. Supply to the immediate need (normally food, clothing, bedding and mattress, and water for seven days); 7. On delivery, ‘Send Location’ of delivery address.
Neither Venter nor Turner wish to establish an NGO or earn an income from their efforts to assist the greater Plett community; as such, no formal auxiliary body has been formed and these individuals continue to assist the municipality on a voluntary basis in their personal capacities.
Rhian Berning, a local environmental activist who lost her home during the February wildfire in Plett, is part of a group of women who created their own support network because they all lost their homes - and some, their family businesses.
Says Berning: “These women are still asking questions about the medium to long term support needed to rebuild their lives and their family businesses after the fire.
“They say while family and friends have been incredibly supportive in the months since the fire, they have received little to no support from the municipality since having their immediate needs met at the temporary relief centre days after the fire.
“Those that have lost their businesses have had no income in all these months since the fire, while others cite examples of staff who are now homeless and have received no support.
“And then there is the question of what happened to all the donated goods that were moved from the relief centre at The Market Square when it was shut down.
“The enormous task of rebuilding not only their homes but those of their staff and of course their businesses, which provide much-needed employment for the town, still requires ongoing disaster relief management and assistance from the municipality, NGOs, and the broader community,” says Berning.
Turner and Venter said that all donations received in the form of clothing, blankets, and dried goods had been distributed to fire victims. Some perishable goods were donated to charitable organisations before expiry.
Venter also pointed out that restoring people’s homes was the number-one priority, and that businesses were outside the bounds of municipal responsibility.
Neville Petersen of the Plettenberg Bay Ratepayers Association has been appointed to manage the municipal disaster relief fund.
According to Petersen, there are a number of people who have pledged money to disaster relief, but have not yet transferred the pledged funds into the bank account. “At present, there is approximately R300,000 in the fund with donations, hopefully, continuing to be paid in,” said Petersen.
He explained that he, the municipality, and the other disaster relief volunteers were in the process of identifying homeowners who have lost their homes and are in need of assistance in order to rebuild.
Bitou Municipality have included a Bitou Rebuild page on its website. According to this page, “the completion of the detailed final assessment of all the affected areas and properties will enable Bitou Municipality to quantify the total financial impact of the damages”.
It continues that the process will be thorough, according to prescribed legal procedures, and confidential, and that the website will be updated with FAQs on a regular basis.
Contact Chris Schliemann at cschliemann@plett.gov.za or on 044 501 3000 for more information.