Postgraduate Honours Module in Disaster Risk Studies and development


This module is offered as part of Stellenbosch University's Department of Geography and Environmental Studies Honours programme.

While South Africa specifically, and Southern Africa in general, are not internationally viewed as disaster-prone, rapid population growth, widespread socioeconomic vulnerability and environmental pressures have significantly increased disaster risk. This is reflected in severe drought impacts and flash flooding – along with growing rates of ‘small disasters’ in peri-urban and informal settlements, which inflict devastating losses on poor households. These trends suggest that in addition to improving early warning for, preparedness and response to disaster events, there is an equally pressing imperative to reduce the probability and severity of disaster occurrences through risk-sensitive development interventions.

Educational objectives:

This course provides students with an integrated understanding of disaster risk and its implications for sustainable development in southern Africa, with a specific focus on South Africa. The course contextualises disaster risk as an outcome of the interplay between human and natural factors. Particular thematic area’s and activities include;

  • Contemporary Disasters
  • Emerging Urban Risks
  • Human Development and Disaster Risk Reduction

The course adopts an interdisciplinary perspective on disasters, taking into consideration both biophysical elements (hazards) and the social and economic forces that influence disaster vulnerability and resilience. Specific learning outcomes include:

  •  A clear understanding of the theoretical and applied disciplines that define disaster, vulnerability and risk (including hazard science and the applied disciplines of disaster management, disaster loss and humanitarian assistance)
  • An understanding of the nature, impact and underlying socioeconomic, political, environmental and infrastructural risk factors driving frequently occurring disasters in Southern Africa.
  • A clear understanding of the patterns of urban and rural disaster risk in southern Africa
  •  Demonstrated capacity to integrate and synthesise different and complementary disaster risk perspectives 

Programme structure:

The course comprises one 6-week module over one semester, and forms part of a full years’ Honours degree in Geography and Environmental Science. The course is divided into three main components:

  • Introduction to Disaster Risk, including a conceptual, theoretical and historical overview of disaster risk science
  • A focus on urban risk, examining at-risk areas, communities and households. Including a field excursion into at risk settlements to conduct a community risk assessment.
  • Disaster risk reduction, including associated global frameworks, with a special focus on South African disaster management legislation and policy.

Specific admission requirements:

Applicants should have a BA or BSc degree in the environmental or geographic sciences. 


Enquiries and Contact Details:

Disaster Module Course Details:

Patricia Zweig, Disaster Risk Studies module coordinator

Tel: +27 (0) 21 808 9282


Postgraduate Student Programme and Registration details:

Mrs Deirdre Davids, Postgraduate Coordinator

Tel: +27 (0) 21 808 3100


For more information about the Honours programme and other module options, please visit the University of Stellenbosch’s Department of Geography and Environmental Studies' Honours Programme website.

Download the University's Arts and Social Science Yearbook here.

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