Action Needed: Bridging the data gap in South Africa's natural hazard tools and databases.

An analysis of natural hazard tools and databases in South Africa


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As the world faces an unprecedented rise in natural disasters, there is a dire need for accurate and comprehensive data to manage and mitigate their impact effectively. Like the rest of the world, South Africa is not spared from the calamities such as floods, storms, droughts, wildfires, and landslides, which are becoming more frequent and severe. Urbanisation, inadequate land-use planning, and population growth have further intensified the effects of these disasters (Davis-Reddy & Hilgert, 2021). For instance, the floods that wreaked havoc in KwaZulu-Natal in April 2022 (South African Government, 2022) caused extensive environmental, economic, and infrastructural damage and loss of lives. As recently as June 27, 2023, a tornado accompanied by torrential rains brought massive destruction in the Inanda District of KwaZulu-Natal (Aljazeera, 2023).

This blog post, titled “Action Needed: Bridging the data gap in South Africa’s natural hazard tools and databases“, spotlights the urgent need for data producers to step up their game in addressing the glaring information gaps. South Africa is in need of concerted efforts to bridge the data gap that currently exists in its natural hazard tools and databases. While various tools and databases are available, there is a pressing need to enhance data availability, accessibility, and quality to effectively monitor, analyse, and mitigate the risks associated with natural hazards. 

This blog delves into several natural hazard tools and databases covering South Africa, focusing on hydrological, meteorological, geophysical and climatological disasters, specifically floods, storms, droughts, earthquakes and wildfires. The availability and efficacy of tools, databases, and applications tailored for monitoring, predicting, and assessing these predominant disasters are critical in strategising effective responses. We compare 18 hazard databases categorised based on their spatial coverage, including national, provincial, district, and local municipality levels. However, the question remains: using such tools – Is the existing data sufficient? The gravity and complexity of natural disasters call for coordinated efforts by data producers to consistently enhance and update these tools. This is not just about having databases; it’s about ensuring they are comprehensive, up-to-date, and reliable, enabling informed decisions that safeguard.

Further information regarding the diverse hazard categories and their corresponding events can be conveniently accessed through interactive engagement with the set of clickable pictures provided below. By clicking on the respective icons, you will gain access to in-depth details pertaining to each hazard category and its associated events.


Linking Natural Hazards to the SDGs

Natural disasters pose significant challenges to environmental stability, economic progress, and social inclusivity. Their occurrence can significantly impede the achievement of the goals and objectives outlined by the SENDAI Framework and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SENDAI Framework, adopted in 2015, emphasizes the importance of disaster risk reduction and resilience-building to enhance societal well-being and sustainable development. The SDGs, a set of 17 global goals adopted by the United Nations in 2015, encompass a broad range of objectives aimed at addressing global challenges and promoting sustainable development. Among these goals, 25 targets from 10 SDGs are directly related to disaster risk reduction, as highlighted by the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR). These targets emphasize the integration of disaster risk reduction into various sectors, including poverty eradication, health, education, infrastructure, and climate action and policy frameworks, recognising the interconnectedness between disasters and sustainable development. 

The SDGs related to disaster reduction cover a broad spectrum of objectives, encompassing economic, social, and environmental dimensions. For example, SDG 1 aims to eradicate poverty, while SDG 11 focuses on creating resilient cities and communities. SDG 13 addresses climate action and the mitigation of climate-related hazards, which are often associated with natural disasters. By considering disaster risk reduction within these goals, efforts are made to strengthen societies, protect vulnerable populations, and promote sustainable development.

SDGs related to disaster risk

Click on the SDG logos to view each of the targets related to disaster risk reduction.

In conclusion, the occurrence of natural disasters poses significant challenges to achieving the goals and objectives outlined by the SDGs and the SENDAI Framework. By recognising the interdependencies between disaster risk reduction and sustainable development, integrating disaster risk reduction into the development agenda, societies can better prepare for, mitigate and foster sustainable development outcomes across economic, social, and environmental spheres. 


The research methodology encompassed a rigorous exploration of online resources, starting with established database platforms widely recognised in the field of disaster management. These tools were carefully selected to ensure the acquisition of reliable and up-to-date information pertaining to natural hazards. The following databases were accessed and thoroughly explored as part of the literature review process:

  • Floodlist: Floodlist is an online platform that provides comprehensive coverage and information about floods occurring worldwide. It aggregates and curates news articles, reports, and updates from various sources, including international news agencies, government agencies, research institutions, and non-governmental organisations.
  • Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction – United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UN DRR): Produced every two years, the GAR, is a flagship publication of the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR). It is an authoritative report that assesses the state of disaster risk globally and provides insights into the progress and challenges in disaster risk reduction efforts.
  • The Advanced Fire Information System (AFIS): is a tool developed to monitor and analyse wildfires globally. It provides valuable information and data on active fires, fire behavior, and fire danger, aiding in fire management, prevention, and response efforts.
  • The African Flood and Drought Monitor (AFDM): This is a tool designed to monitor and assess flood and drought events across the African continent. The AFDM utilises satellite data, weather observations, and hydrological models to detect, monitor, and analyse flood and drought conditions in real-time. 
  • The Dartmouth Flood Observatory (DFO): DFO is a research organisation that specialises in monitoring and studying global flood events through satellite observations and remote sensing techniques. 
  • The Emergency Events Database (EM-DAT): An authoritative source maintained by the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED), providing comprehensive information on natural and technological disasters worldwide.
  • The Global Assessment Report (GAR) 2017 Atlas Risk Data Download Facility: This facility, developed by the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR), it offers a user-friendly platform for downloading risk data from the GAR 2017 Atlas. The Global Assessment Report (GAR) 2017 Atlas is a collection of risk data, including information on various natural hazards such as floods, wildfires, and landslides. It combines geospatial data, hazard maps, exposure information, and vulnerability assessments to provide a multidimensional understanding of disaster risks.
  • The Global Risk Data Platform: A repository of global risk data that aggregates and integrates data from a wide range of sources, including international organisations, national agencies, research institutions, and non-governmental organisations. The GDRP is maintained by various international organisations and research institutions.
  • The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Disasters Program: NASA’s initiative focused on monitoring and analysing global natural hazards using remote sensing and satellite technology.
  • The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Global Imagery Browse Services (GIBS): a web service that provides access to a wide range of Earth observation imagery and data collected by NASA’s satellite missions. GIBS offers a user-friendly interface to browse, visualize, and access these images and data in near real-time.
  • The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) – Global Drought Information System (GDIS): The GDIS aims to provide timely and accurate information on drought conditions worldwide to support decision-making and improve drought preparedness and response. The GDIS utilises a combination of ground-based observations, satellite data, and climate models to monitor and assess drought conditions globally. It incorporates data from various sources, including rainfall, soil moisture, vegetation health, and temperature, to provide a comprehensive picture of drought severity and extent.
  • The United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction Global Assessment Report (UNISDR GAR): A flagship report that consolidates data, analysis, and case studies from various sources providing a global overview of the current state and trends in disaster risk and resilience.

Following the exploration of established databases, our methodology progressed to include keyword searches to identify additional resources tailored to South Africa. The keyword combinations utilised were “South African Natural Disasters“, “South African Natural Disaster Tools“, “South African Wildfire Tools“, “South African Flood Tools,” “South African Drought Tools,” “South African Natural Disaster Database,” and “South African Natural Disaster Record.” The search was limited to reports, databases and tools (dashboards) published in the English language. These search terms were selected to ensure the obtained outputs were specific to South Africa.The identified tools included:

  • Local Government Climate Change Support Program: The Local Government Climate Change Support Program is an initiative aimed at assisting South African municipalities in addressing climate change challenges, including related natural hazards. The program supports local governments in developing climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies, improving disaster risk management capacities, and integrating climate considerations into planning and decision-making processes. Through training, technical support, and knowledge sharing, the program helps municipalities enhance their resilience to climate-related hazards and implement appropriate measures for disaster risk reduction.
  • South African National Space Agency (SANSA): The South African National Space Agency (SANSA) utilizes satellite technology to monitor and manage various aspects related to disaster management. SANSA’s Earth Observation program provides remote sensing data and services to support disaster response and recovery efforts. It contributes to monitoring changes in land cover, vegetation health, and environmental conditions that can help assess and respond to natural hazards. The satellite data and imagery provided by SANSA can aid in mapping and monitoring flood events, drought conditions, and other natural disasters in South Africa.
  • The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) – Greenbook: The CSIR Greenbook is a disaster risk assessment and management tool developed by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research in South Africa. It provides comprehensive information on various hazards, including floods, droughts, wildfires, and storms, as well as their potential impacts on different sectors such as infrastructure, agriculture, and health. The Greenbook assists decision-makers, planners, and emergency responders in understanding and mitigating the risks associated with these hazards. It offers guidance on risk reduction strategies, early warning systems, and disaster response planning.
  • The National Disaster Management Center (NDMC): The primary disaster management agency in South Africa, responsible for coordinating and implementing disaster risk reduction strategies. The NDMC has a daily fire index early warning system and a disaster atlas application that provides historic records of gazetted disaster in South Africa.
  • ThinkHazard!: ThinkHazard! is a web-based tool developed by the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR). It provides information on various natural hazards and their potential impacts on development projects. The tool helps project managers and stakeholders assess the potential risks associated with different hazards in specific locations. In the case of South Africa, ThinkHazard! can provide guidance on the potential risks and measures to consider for projects in areas prone to floods, droughts, storms, and other hazards.

These tools, namely the NDMC’s daily fire index early warning system and the disaster atlas application, the CSIR Greenbook, ThinkHazard!, SANSA’s satellite data services, and the Local Government Climate Change Support Program, contribute to the understanding, assessment, and management of natural hazards and disaster risks in South Africa. These resources play a crucial role in facilitating hazard assessment and management. The aim of these tools is to provide resources and support to decision-makers, planners, and communities in enhancing their preparedness and resilience in the face of natural disasters. Furthermore, it is crucial to incorporate the aforementioned natural hazard tools and databases into policy frameworks, as they possess the potential and capacity to consolidate a wealth of risk data and information. This integration will facilitate comprehensive risk assessment, resilience planning, and the realisation of the SDGs, thus serving as a valuable resource in achieving these goals.

Results and Discussion

The findings of this review reveal a scarcity of accessible tools for natural hazard detection, warnings, and mapping in South Africa. The review indicates a lack of readily available tools and systems that can effectively detect and monitor natural hazards, issue timely warnings, and facilitate accurate mapping of hazard-prone areas within the country. The current landscape of natural disaster tools and applications primarily prioritises broader-scale monitoring at the provincial, national, and continental levels, neglecting the specific needs of local municipalities and district municipalities. Among the 17 databases and tools identified in this review, only three (CSIR Greenbook, NDMC daily fire warning tool and AFIS) are specifically designed to cater to the requirements of the local municipal level. Out of the three tools identified for the local municipal level, two of them specifically concentrate on fire hazards. Additionally, four tools each are dedicated to the district municipality and provincial levels. However, all 17 tools and databases provide a national overview of natural hazards.

Among these tools, the CSIR Greenbook is the most renowned, it provides comprehensive guidance and information on various hazards, offering practical insights into risk assessment, mitigation strategies, and emergency response planning at the local level. The NDMC daily fire warning tool is specifically designed for local municipalities to monitor and manage fire-related risks. It is an important tool as it provides timely and localised information about fire dangers, allowing municipalities to issue appropriate warnings and implement preventive measures to minimise fire incidents and their associated impacts. Furthermore, the AFIS, aids local municipalities in monitoring and analysing fires, more specifically wildfires. It offers real-time data and analysis on active fires, fire patterns and behaviour and fire danger.

The disparity in the distribution of tools highlights the limited availability of resources tailored to the localised needs of municipalities. While the identified tools offer valuable insights into the broader national perspective of natural hazards, there is a pressing need to develop more tools that address the unique challenges and vulnerabilities faced by local municipalities and district municipalities. Tools that focus on the local municipal level play a vital role in enabling effective disaster management and response at the grassroots level. They provide specific information on hazards and risks relevant to the local context, allowing municipalities to make informed decisions and take proactive measures to protect their communities. By having access to tools that cater to their specific needs, local municipalities can better assess hazards, formulate tailored risk reduction strategies, and enhance their emergency preparedness and response capabilities.

To bridge the gap between broader-scale monitoring and localised needs,  this review emphasises the need for the development of tools and applications that specifically cater to the local municipality and district municipality levels should be prioritised. These tools should provide comprehensive and up-to-date information on hazards, risk assessments, early warning systems, and mitigation strategies, empowering municipalities to effectively manage and mitigate the impacts of natural disasters within their jurisdictions, ultimately leading to more effective disaster risk reduction and response efforts throughout the nation. And in so doing, enhancing South Africa’s preparedness, response, and management capabilities for natural disasters. 

The literature review revealed the availability of various tools for assessing and managing disaster risks at different spatial extents. The following tools were identified for specific spatial scales: 


In conclusion, the research findings highlight significant efforts and extensive coverage in monitoring and evaluating disaster risks, largely attributed to the availability of international organisations that provide global perspectives on disasters. However, it is crucial to acknowledge that the effective monitoring and mitigation of localised disaster events primarily falls under the responsibility of South African institutions. Therefore, there is a pressing need for increased investment in the monitoring and evaluation of disaster risks at the local level by South African companies and organisations.

These local entities are well-positioned and at the forefront of events that occur within the country. They possess valuable insights into the specific challenges, vulnerabilities, and risk factors faced by local communities, making them the most equipped to effectively address and respond to localised disaster risks. By allocating resources towards developing and implementing localised monitoring and evaluation strategies, South African organisations can enhance their capacity to detect, assess, and mitigate the impacts of disasters at the local level.

Investing in localised disaster risk monitoring and evaluation is vital for strengthening the resilience and preparedness of communities across South Africa. By leveraging their knowledge of the local context and collaborating with relevant stakeholders, these organisations can develop tailored strategies and interventions to mitigate risks, enhance early warning systems, and improve response and recovery efforts. This localised approach will contribute to more effective disaster risk management, ultimately reducing the negative impacts of disasters on lives, livelihoods, and infrastructure.

In summary, while significant efforts and global coverage exist in the monitoring and evaluation of disaster risks, the responsibility for effective local-level monitoring and mitigation lies with South African institutions. By prioritising investments in localised disaster risk monitoring and evaluation, these organisations can leverage their local expertise to address the unique challenges faced within the country and enhance resilience at the community level.


Disasters blog accessible here(, provides an overview of South African disasters. This blog typically provides information, analysis, and updates about various types of disasters, including natural disasters (droughts, floods, major fires, tornadoes, major oil spills and even earthquakes) and human-made disasters (such as industrial accidents)