Failure to adequately rebuild the KwaZulu-Natal coastal region following the recent bouts of inclement weather could have significant consequences for the region and its economy.
This is according to Professor Hope Magidimisha-Chipungu, the South African Research Chair Initiatives (Sarchi) chair for Inclusive Cities from the University Of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN).
Among the potential outcomes if the reconstruction did not happen were: continued vulnerability to future disasters; disrupted economic activities; impacted tourism industry; strained public services; decreased investor confidence and the displacement of communities.
This as recent studies have shown KZN is likely to experience increased incidents of severe flooding.
Earlier this year an international study led out of the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) and published in the journal Nature Geoscience, which used state-of-the-art techniques to investigate seabed sediments, revealed that severe tropical cyclones made landfall on the eastern coast of South Africa in the past and that under projected climate change conditions, these damaging phenomena could arise in the future.
Honorary research professor, Andrew Cooper said: “At present, tropical storms are usually confined to central Mozambique but renewed ocean warming because of climate change could once again allow them to travel south, with potentially disastrous implications for cities like Maputo, Durban and Richards Bay.”
Another study published this year by Wits University said research showed flooding events in the province had doubled in the last century.
The disastrous flood that hit Durban in April 2022 was the most catastrophic natural disaster yet recorded in KZN in collective terms of lives lost, homes and infrastructure damaged or destroyed and economic impact.
In April 2022, the KZN coastal zone, including the greater Durban area and South Coast, received more than 300mm of rain in 24 hours. This led to calamitous flooding, with 459 people losing their lives and 88 people still missing by the end of May 2022. More than 4000 homes were destroyed, 40 000 people left homeless, and 45 000 people were temporarily left unemployed. The cost of infrastructure and business losses amounted to an estimated $2 billion (R36bn).
A national state of disaster was declared at that time.
Professor Stefan Grab from Wits University said it was highly likely that recent anthropogenically-induced global climate warming had contributed to trends of increased flooding.
“We need to prepare for bigger rainfall events in our cities, and that doesn’t just apply to Durban, it applies to all South African cities and towns. We must get our infrastructure, especially drainage systems, in order. It is urgent that we better prepare ourselves for the heavy rainfall and flood events that are guaranteed to come in times ahead,” said Grab.
What steps can be taken to mitigate risk
Magidimisha-Chipungu said, “Prioritising and expediting the rebuilding process with resilience measures is essential to mitigate these consequences and ensure long-term stability and economic growth for the region.”
She said the recent weather events had severely compromised the region’s transportation networks, water and sanitation systems, coastal infrastructure, housing and power supply to name just a few.
“The extent to which enough is being done to resolve these challenges and mitigate future damage varies. It depends on factors such as the speed and effectiveness of response from government authorities, the availability of resources and the co-ordination among different stakeholders. Efforts are being made to address the immediate needs, including emergency response, infrastructure repairs, and restoration of essential services,” Magidimisha-Chipungu said.
And according to the professor, comprehensive and long-term resilience measures are required such as sustained investments, planning and co-ordination. This involves not only repairing the damaged infrastructure, but implementing measures to improve its resilience to future climate risks.
She also pointed to KZN having the potential to source and develop the resources and skills required for rebuilding infrastructure, which could withstand future inclement weather events. The region benefited from a pool of skilled professionals in fields such as engineering, architecture, and urban planning.
“These local experts can contribute their knowledge and expertise to infrastructure reconstruction efforts, providing valuable insights and innovative solutions,” she said.
However, government support was crucial.
“The provincial and national government should prioritise investments in infrastructure and allocate dedicated funds for improving resilience to inclement weather events. By providing financial resources and implementing supportive policies, the government can create an enabling environment for infrastructure reconstruction efforts,” Magidimisha-Chipungu said.
Professor Mohamed Mostafa, head of UKZN Civil Engineering, said the rebuilding of KZN’s infrastructure was an opportunity to build a more sustainable and equitable region.
“The rebuilding effort should focus on creating jobs, improving access to essential services, and protecting the environment,” he said.
The KZN Department of Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs spokesperson Angel Sibisi said the department’s vision was to strive towards the elimination of all avoidable disasters, ensuring community resilience to disaster events and responding effectively to unavoidable disasters in a manner that supported the social, economic and environmental well-being of the communities of the province.