DURBAN - THE heavy rains that wreaked havoc in KwaZulu-Natal last week have seen renewed calls for climate-resilient infrastructure in municipalities. More than 400 people have been killed, scores are missing and damage estimated at billions has affected 10 districts, including the eThekwini Metro.
The South African Local Government Association (Salga) said that it was essential for municipalities to strengthen their disaster management function as global warming and associated climate change were “projected to cause severe weather patterns that will become a regular occurrence”.
Salga president Bheki Stofile said it was important to have climate-resilient infrastructure and planning. He added that there was a need to identify environmentally sensitive areas that should be protected and preserved.
“This will be crucial in ensuring that communities are not in these ecosystems that would often result in loss of life and livelihoods due to floods, mudslides and other forms of environmental degradation.”
Stofile said the extensive damage to the KZN road infrastructure also necessitated action on how these were planned and developed.
“It is becoming clear that the storms are no longer just a problem of low-lying areas close to the rivers – stormwater drainage systems, wetlands and rivers can no longer handle heavy downpours,” Stofile said.
The SACP’s Alex Mashilo said while they supported the government’s declaration of emergency and rescue efforts, more needed to be done.
“The evidence shows people living in informal settlements were devastated by the floods, particularly those settled in floodplains. It will take them an exceptionally long time to recover from the devastation, thus government must hasten to provide emergency aid to those communities as well.”
Mashilo said it was also crucial that government and municipalities engaged with people to ensure they did not build settlements in floodplains. “We must in earnest deal with the reality of climate change and the role of capitalist greed in destroying the environment. Everywhere, capitalism’s voracious need for ever-expanding growth has resulted in the destruction of the metabolic relation between societies and nature.”
Mashilo said the struggle for sustainable development, characterised by the decommodification of the environment, among other elements, would contribute to finding long-term solutions to the extremely irregular weather patterns.
“The floods also point to the reality that our infrastructure development needs serious attention. There is therefore the absolute necessity of responding through significant upscaling of public employment programmes to fix and build our infrastructure, particularly storm water drainage systems and roads. There is also the need to ensure that emergency and other public services respond to all and not leave the poor communities behind.”
He said the results of the floods also pointed to the need for the utilisation of science to harness innovative technologies for infrastructure and settlements that are more resilient to bad weather.