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Implications of government’s re-prioritisation, or lack thereof, in the recurring KZN floods

A home submerged in water following the floods that displaced thousands of people in KwaZulu-Natal. Picture: Bongani Mbatha African News Agency (ANA) Archives

A home submerged in water following the floods that displaced thousands of people in KwaZulu-Natal. Picture: Bongani Mbatha African News Agency (ANA) Archives

Published Jun 9, 2022

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By Hope Tshepiso Dhlamini and Chidochashe Nyere

May 19 marked exactly a month since the devastating floods and landslides that struck parts of KwaZulu-Natal and Eastern Cape provinces, destroying infrastructure, sanitation, and property, and disrupting the living conditions of many locals. We note that there has been little progress in these provinces' recovery.

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According to News24, approximately 6 895 people are homeless as a result. The majority of the homeless in eThekwini are temporarily accommodated in makeshift shelters; notably, KwaDukuza and the other 89 shelters around KZN.

Various sources postulate that more than 400 people have died as a result of the floods in KZN, and have to be grieving and moaning about their losses in uncomfortable living conditions. A further 88 people are still missing and have not been accounted for yet, by the authorities.

Many thousands have been displaced following the flooding. These numbers may have very well soared given the recurrence of floods on the weekend of May 22.

We quip that the government’s prioritisation of funds process is too slow and this casts doubt on a government that is already embattled in a public trust deficit.

The slow pace of handling funds gives credence to ill-public views of an untrustworthy system of government in dealing with emergencies, particularly the crises that KZN residents are currently facing.

Since April 19, 2022, victims have been practically dealing with the aftermath of floods and landslides, yet R1 billion worth of donations and contributions have been received by the government.

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Although government has come out to dispute the claims that the R1 billion was sourced from well-wishers and donations, citing instead that, it is money that would come from various government departments.

Whether or not the relief funds were donated by well-wishers or government in order to assist KZN in its recovery, it is the slow trickling of said funds to the intended beneficiaries, if at all, that is concerning.

There are reports – although at variance with each other – alleging that the government is withholding the funds, which takes away from the assurances made by the government that the money would not be looted.

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What remains is that, given the time the first floods occurred, it is rather unreasonable for authorities to not have put in place efficient structures to address this ensuing crisis by now.

The continued delay in addressing the disbursement of funds could further expose victims of the floods to opportunistic Covid-19 infections. Presumably, some could possibly be battling other diseases and infections as well.

Most of them, if not all, are already food insecure and are confronted with a situation that hampers on their privacy and the intrusion of their personal space as a result. This humanitarian crisis cannot be let to continue. An immediate solution has to be in place.

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The one thing that the government should be prioritising is its people, if not its reputation and image, because some sections of society already perceive it as unethical and incompetent.

Speaking of priorities, there is a need for government to fast-track its re-prioritisation of funds. This is part of government's procedure and budget system. However, re-prioritisation has previously promoted mismanagement of funds, money laundering, scandals, and protests within the underprivileged and helpless sections of South African society.

We argue that monetary contributions from various states, charity organisations, corporate companies, NGOs and individuals meant exclusively to help with recovering KZN and its people, should not have landed in the hands of the government to be re-prioritised. Public trust in the government is diminishing by the day.

This makes the government an isolated organisation since it is perceived as serially disappointing the nation by making unethical financial decisions that are exploited by its officials.

Government must take a visibly leading role in mobilising resources for rebuilding the province of KZN. This is going to be a challenge, given that public trust in government is withering, but this could also be an opportunity for government to redeem itself by doing what it ought to be rightfully doing anyway.

There is a need for authorities to be seen to be engaging and consulting the affected communities in charting a way forward past the floods. The discussion on environmental justice keeps resurfacing when natural disasters such as floods resurface.

It cannot continue to be business as usual without addressing environmental justice. Humanity has to accept its part in the way nature has responded to the former’s abuse.

Authorities must also re-prioritise environmental consciousness, since environmental degradation can come about as a result of both natural and human action.

The Natural Global Warming (NGW) is much more complex to arrest and correct, not that it is impossible to do, but it depends much more on solar variability, which cannot be easily controlled. It is the human-caused harm that government can immediately deal with.

The latter is known as Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) - although minute – it contributes to the environmental crisis; thus, there is a need for public engagement and conscientisation.

For example, deforestation often leads to desertification, mining and the subsequent failure to rehabilitate old disused mines, the littering with plastic and contamination of water sources, as well as the construction of informal human settlements that do not take into account the environment and proper urban planning, are contributing factors to AGW.

More importantly, government should invest in public engagement and must lead efforts to conscientise society on the effects of environmental degradation, global warming and the environmental crisis.

Corrective measures to immediately halt AGW are urgent and can be achieved in the mid-term, and these then tend to become preventative measures in the long-term.

Preventive measures may take time as they tend to result from protracted policy direction and implementation, particularly by the bureaucratic regime, together with civil society and the corporate sector. This would hopefully lead to sustainable solutions that resonate with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals 13 – Climate Action.

* Hope Tshepiso Dlamini is a Communications Intern at the Institute for Pan African Thought and Conversation (IPATC).

* Dr Chidochashe Nyere is a Research Fellow at IPATC.

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