Fire as an agent of change: the social, economic and environmental impacts of the Knysna fires.
Motau, Andries Molatelo.
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The world has seen an increase in natural hazards in recent years and these hazards are showing their impacts in Africa as well. Climate change has been regarded as a catalyst to some of these disasters as they are now frequent and disastrous. This study uses the Knysna fire to study the social, economic, and environmental impacts of an environmental risk event in coastal towns. Fires such as the one that occurred in Knysna are not typical and occur in longer disaster risk cycles. Traditionally, social scientists have focused on the economic impacts of fire, especially financial burdens that come with them. However, interesting questions emerge when the focus includes the social and environmental impacts rather than just the economic impacts. Do people have an understanding of natural disasters? Is there any chance of livelihoods before and after the fire? Are people resilient to the impact of large fires? To explore these questions, this dissertation uses the disastrous 2017 Knysna fires as a case study. A sample of twenty participants was selected using purposive sampling. Interviews and observations were used as a tool to collect data, which was analysed using content analysis. The primary source of data was obtained from the residents of Knysna, including both informal residents and middle and high-income residents, the insurance sector, municipality officials, local businesses, and environmental consultants. Findings show that most people in Knysna have an understanding of what natural hazards are. Fire was identified as the most common natural hazard in Knysna. Also, the findings show that the informal settlement residents were the most vulnerable, but that there were also middle and high-income residents and some local businesses that were vulnerable to the fire. The social, economic and environmental impacts of the fire were largely negative but there were positive outcomes in response to the disaster. The study reveals that the municipality lacked the capacity to deal with the fire disaster at the time of the event. The community of Knysna is resilient and has managed to rebuild itself. Although the fire resulted in significant impacts, particularly for those who lost their homes and properties in the fire, with informal settlers being the least resilient as they are more vulnerable due to the poverty trap.