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Future weather related disasters could be even more devastating for KZN

Women take advantage of a broken water pipe in uMlazi and wash their clothes as water supply had been disrupted in parts of Durban due to flooding in April 2022. Much infrastructure was weakened by the floods, rendering them less able to withstand future extreme weather events.Picture: Doctor Ngcobo/African News Agency(ANA)

Women take advantage of a broken water pipe in uMlazi and wash their clothes as water supply had been disrupted in parts of Durban due to flooding in April 2022. Much infrastructure was weakened by the floods, rendering them less able to withstand future extreme weather events.Picture: Doctor Ngcobo/African News Agency(ANA)

Published Jul 10, 2023

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The recent weather events in South Africa's second highest GDP contributor, KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) that have had a terrible impact on infrastructure, made it more likely that future disasters will be even more devastating.

Professor Mohamed Mostafa, head of Civil Engineering at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN), said the recent impact of weather on infrastructure had set back the region's progress in several ways.

"Roads and bridges that have been weakened by flooding are more likely to collapse in future storms. Power lines that have been damaged by wind are more likely to start fires. Water systems that have been contaminated by flooding are more likely to spread disease," Mostafa said.

The professor said the damage to infrastructure also made it more challenging to respond to future disasters. He said roads and bridges that were washed away or damaged make it problematic to get emergency vehicles and supplies to where they were needed.

Power outages could make it awkward to communicate and coordinate response efforts, he said.

Mostafa said the damage to infrastructure also made it tougher for people to recover from disasters.

"Homes and businesses that have been destroyed can take years to rebuild, and people who have lost their homes may need to relocate. This can be a very hard and stressful experience, and it can make it difficult for people to get back on their feet."

The academic said several things could be done to prevent further damage.

He said this included using more resilient materials which were less likely to be damaged by flooding, fire or other extreme weather events. For example, he said, using innovative or recycled materials could help.

He said the region could also design infrastructure with flexibility in mind. This meant designing infrastructure that can be easily repaired or replaced if a weather event damaged it.

"For example, we could use modular buildings that can be easily disassembled and reassembled."

He stressed it was also important to invest in early warning systems that detected and warn people of impending weather events, giving them sufficient time to evacuate or take other protective measures.

Mostafa said it was also important to educate the public about the risks of extreme weather events by alerting people about the risks of extreme weather events and how to prepare for them.

He said this would help people make informed decisions about where to live and how to build their homes.

The professor said the resources and skills required to rebuild infrastructure in this way would vary depending on the specific location and the type of infrastructure that needed to be rebuilt.

He said governments, businesses and individuals would have to provide resources including funding as rebuilding infrastructure was expensive which meant that significant investment would be needed.

He said engineering expertise was also key. "Construction skills are also needed since building infrastructure requires skilled construction workers. This means more attention must be given to TVET Colleges and training institutions."

Mostafa said public support was necessary as rebuilding infrastructure was a long-term project.

"Rebuilding infrastructure that can withstand future inclement weather events is a complex challenge. Still, it is one we must take on if we want to protect our communities from the increasing risks of extreme weather."

According to Mostafa, the KZN coastal region did have some of the resources and skills needed to rebuild infrastructure that could withstand future inclement weather events.

"For example, many engineering firms in the region have experience in design and building resilient infrastructure. Several regional construction companies have the skills to build infrastructure using resilient materials. However, the region does not have all of the resources and skills needed to rebuild infrastructure in this way."

He said the region could obtain the resources and skills it needed from a number of sources.

"For example, the government can provide funding for training programs to develop skilled construction workers.

"The region can also develop its resources and skills by working with other regions and foreign countries. For example, the region can partner with foreign cities with experience in building resilient infrastructure. The region can also partner with countries that have developed new resilient materials and construction techniques. Moreover, the government can partner with the private sector to fund research and development projects."

KZN Department of Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs (EDTEA) spokesperson Angel Sibisi, said the government was aware of the climate change projected risks for the province that were documented as part of the vulnerability assessment process contained in the draft KZN Climate Change Strategy.

He said sectoral response programmes in the draft strategy were being implemented.

"The KZN Climate Change Draft Strategy makes a requirement for sector departments to develop climate response plans that indicate their contribution and investments to climate change mitigation and adaptation. The implementation of the provincial response actions is monitored through the Intergovernmental structures, namely the KZN Climate Change Council, and the KZN Climate Change Technical Committee," Sibisi said.

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