Contributions to reducing critical global warming

This aerial view shows sports grounds under water a few days after heavy rain in Durban, South Africa, on April 15, 2022. Photo: AFP

As downpours inundated South Africa’s third-largest city this week, residents were lucky to still have internet access and shared heartbreaking videos of highways turning into rivers, collapsed buildings and flooded cars.

The deluge killed more than 300 people in KwaZulu-Natal province, and with more heavy rain expected this weekend, residents and experts questioned whether the city had prepared enough for worsening conditions extreme weather.

“We don’t have the attention of the government,” complained Siya Gumede, 26, outside her home in Shakaskraal township north of Durban – a house that is now just walls after a nearby church collapsed on its roof on Sunday.

“You saw the potholes, there are no street lights, our taps are empty, there is no rainwater drainage,” said Gumede, who had to get stitch up his head after being injured in the collapse.

In 2020, Durban – KwaZulu-Natal’s largest city – released its climate action plan outlining strategies to green its energy, reduce flood risk, improve waste management and conserve water, with the aim of becoming carbon neutral by 2050.

While climate activists acknowledged the plan was progressive, they said there was little evidence it was being implemented.

But measures ranging from better drainage to more careful urban planning will be crucial to limit losses during extreme weather conditions such as this week’s floods, climate experts said.

A World Weather Attribution study published this week indicates that climate change has led to increased rainfall associated with tropical cyclones that hit southern Africa.

“It’s a teachable moment,” said Christopher Trisos, one of the lead authors of an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report on climate change adaptation. and risks, published at the end of February.

“The IPCC report found that 90% of African cities do not yet have substantial climate adaptation plans, which is extremely concerning,” Trisos, director of the Climate Risk Laboratory in Cape Town, told the Thomson Foundation. Reuters.

“But there are still opportunities for adaptation.”

“Better Urbanism”

Flood-hit KwaZulu-Natal province was declared a state of disaster by the Ministry of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA) this week, a move that is helping to release emergency funds for hard-hit communities .

In Shakaskraal, oil tankers lay hidden in thick debris along the road after being washed away by rain. Cavernous cracks split the tarmac as young children waded through the puddles left by the storm.

“We need the government to come and check the damage, in time before the next rain comes,” said Sifiso Zhungu, a handyman working in nearby Sheffield Beach.

President Cyril Ramaphosa visited the families of those who died this week and observed the extent of the damage from a helicopter.

“We are treating this disaster with the level of severity it requires,” he said, noting that his visit would help decide what resources should be released in flood-hit districts.

But residents said more work needed to be done to prepare for disasters before they hit, rather than just reacting afterward.

“We need better urban planning,” said Rex Hunt, an activist working in drug rehabilitation and food programs in informal settlements north of Durban.

“There is a mega influx of people into urban informal settlements desperate for work and we need to adapt. We need proper management and maintenance of housing and sanitation systems,” Hunt said from his office.

Go green?

Africa is expected to experience the fastest urban growth in the world by 2050, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). But Trisos said informal settlements provide good opportunities to adapt to the growing risk of flooding.

“There is an opportunity because many informal settlements are not yet tarred, so we can still create green infrastructure,” from water-absorbing city parks to better-drained rivers, he said.

Urban researchers at design firm Arup recently assessed the “sponginess” – or water-absorbing capacity – of cities around the world, noting that adding parks, trees and natural drainage can reduce flood and drought risks.

Good construction standards that take into account the topography of the area and include robust water drainage systems are also essential to deal with future floods, said China Dodovu, chairman of COGTA.

“But the overarching pillar is the eradication of poverty and unemployment, because that will ensure people have the disposable income to build quality housing,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in emailed comments.

Tackling multiple social issues at once — from unemployment to housing and flood resilience — can create “double wins,” Trisos said.

Doduvu said the increasingly clear threats of climate change only reiterated the need for the country to reduce its heavy energy dependence on coal – a major driver of global warming – despite stubborn unemployment and inequality.

Economic, social and environmental advances must all move forward together or risk failing, he said.

“It’s a balancing act because none of these competing priorities can be let go. … South Africa’s contributions to reducing global warming are essential,” he said.


Teresa H. Sadler