HAMNET Report 9th May 2021

The Southern Cape has been battered by extremely heavy rain, strong winds and high seas since Wednesday, and only by Friday was a state of normalcy starting to return.

IOL reported that residents were evacuated from their homes after heavy floods in some parts of L’Agulhas, Struisbaai, and Struisbaai North on Wednesday. Rescue teams were deployed to the area, including Disaster Management, a statement from the Overberg District Municipality said.

Heavy rain that was initially predicted to reach 45mm, actually reached from 60mm to 100mm in mountainous areas. The weather bureau warned that the rainfall would be accompanied by thunderstorms and hail. Videos and pictures were posted to social media of flooded homes, hail the size of golf balls, and a crew from Cape Agulhas municipality on a small fishing boat helping to evacuate residents.

An orange level 6 warning was issued in the Overberg area, with an urgent note of danger to life due to fast flowing streams.

Residents in the Cape Winelands, City of Cape Town and Hessequa Municipality were also issued an orange level 4 warning, with possible flooding.

Social media were awash, if you’ll pardon the expression, with videos of water flooding streets, racing through gardens, getting rivers that had been dry for up to 7 years flowing again, and the NSRI operating on land, helping to rescue stranded families on farms!

Dam catchment areas in the mountains had huge amounts of rain, and, apart from the effect of filling all dams and reservoirs in the area, ground water has been restocked.

The Airforce was asked to be on standby to help rescue stranded groups of people, but so far, it seems that ground forces were adequate to the task.

At this stage it seems that 2 pairs of travellers in two vehicles lost their lives, being washed away in raging floodwater.

The Cape Winter has been late in starting, but has now started with a vengeance!

In these times of multiple simultaneous disasters taking place, I have had my attention drawn again to the plight of the disabled during disasters. There are many types and degrees of disability, but the one I wish to concentrate on here is the disability of being unable to hear – i.e. deafness.

Deafness has been described as the invisible disability, because it is not obvious that a person is deaf. Deafness prevents a person from having his/her attention drawn easily to a disaster broadcast of any sort.

Reporting in theconversation.com, Nick Craig and Julia Allen note that deaf people are highly vulnerable to disaster risk, but tend to be excluded from programs aimed at boosting preparedness and resilience.

I quote:

“Our study, published in the International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction, examined the challenges the New South Wales Deaf community faces in accessing the support they need to effectively respond to disaster risk.

“Our research showed that deaf people are vulnerable to disasters for various reasons, including low disaster awareness and preparedness, poor knowledge of emergency services roles and responsibilities, and dependency on family and friends for help.

“Communication issues are the biggest barrier, because deaf people have limited access to disaster information in sign language, in plain English or in pictorial form, emergency messages are usually communicated via TV and radio, door-to-door messaging, loudspeaker alerts and social media which are either audio in form or too complicated for many deaf people to understand, and emergency personnel and emergency shelter staff can find it hard to communicate with deaf people due to language barriers.

“Consequently, deaf people are frequently unaware of evacuation shelter locations, unsure of whom and how to ask for help, and more likely to return to unsafe homes and conditions.

“This marginalises them further and increases vulnerability. They also have difficulties in getting information on how to access recovery resources. Good communication requires trust between everyone involved but deaf peoples’ trust in the emergency services has been low due to past bad experiences.

“Deaf people reported that emergency services personnel were often uncomfortable communicating with them directly and lack the patience to use non-verbal communication methods.” End quote.

Thanks to the authors for the use of their report.

In my 4 decades of observing the human species, I have come to the realisation that to be deaf is worse than to be blind. I maintain that blindness robs you of your possessions, but deafness robs you of your friends. To be deaf makes you alone amongst a crowd. The conversation and interaction can go on around you, but you can’t take part. And non-disabled people are more tolerant of the blind, with whom they can communicate, than of the deaf, because they have to shout to make themselves understood, or repeat their message many times.

And, of course, deafness would rob us of the hobby of Ham Radio, an intolerable disability. EXCEPT for digital modes of radio communication, which still allow us to “chew the rag” with our fellow amateurs, and make our volunteerism in emergency communications still possible. This fact alone levels the playing field, so to speak, for all deaf people to continue to practice this hobby.

And it is the digital mode on the cell phone (that is, messaging of one sort or another) which has revolutionized life for deaf people in all walks of life. To message, to be warned, to attract someone’s attention, or be made aware of someone’s desire to communicate with you when you are deaf, is actually the greatest advance in smart phone evolution over the last 2 decades.

I think that being robbed of all exposure to music must surely be the most crippling loss to a deaf person.

So be kind to your deaf relative or friend, help them acquire the most sophisticated hearing aid they can afford, be tolerant of their loud voices because they can’t hear themselves speak, try to learn sign language if you live closely with them, teach them how to use a cell-phone effectively to reduce the loneliness, and use your skill in electronics to devise means to make their soundless life manageable, such as a doorbell that causes a light to flash.

Finally, one line to draw your attention to the signs that a third wave of the Coronavirus illness is just beginning in some of our provinces. Please remember the truism: “It’s not over for any of us, until it’s over for all of us”!

This is Dave Reece ZS1DFR reporting for HAMNET in South Africa.