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Power and water outages teach KZN residents some tough survival lessons: ‘We will never be this unprepared again’

KZN residents affected by water outages this past week have been trying to make life bearable by fetching and carrying water from wherever they can get it. Picture: Doctor Ngcobo/African News Agency(ANA)

KZN residents affected by water outages this past week have been trying to make life bearable by fetching and carrying water from wherever they can get it. Picture: Doctor Ngcobo/African News Agency(ANA)

Published Apr 19, 2022


Durban – The KwaZulu-Natal floods have been devastating, with hundreds of lives lost, families suffering unimaginable heartache, and thousands of homes damaged or completely destroyed.

Those who have only had to contend with the frustration and inconvenience of water and power outages, and perhaps some minor home and garden flooding, should therefore be grateful that this is the worst of their suffering.

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And undoubtedly, they are. This does not, however, mean that their struggles without electricity and water for days on end are not noteworthy.

For many families, today marks ‘day 8’ without water, yet this morning people had to go to work and some children returned to school. Despite the lack of water and power, they have had to find ways to keep tummies full and bodies clean. So if nothing else, the floods and resultant outages have exposed just how much more resourceful home owners and tenants need to become.

It has been a hard lesson to learn, but one that has been taught well.

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Residents with large generators or JoJo tanks have been in a privileged position. Their reasons for, and the extent of, these installations probably vary, but there is no doubt that their investments have paid off in these past eight days alone.

“I don’t know how we would be dealing with this if we did not have our own JoJo tank,” was one comment made by a Bluff resident this past weekend while neighbours were waiting for a water tanker.

Another commented: “We have taken for granted what we have at our fingertips every day, but now we know how quickly we can lose it all. We will never again be this unprepared.”

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Many residents with their own tanks have been sharing water with their neighbours and others in their communities. Pool owners have been doing the same. But some residents have been forced to source water from their local municipal pools, beach pools, and beach showers. Residents have even been bathing and washing their hair at these showers.

Most people, however, have had to buy water in five-litre bottles as water tankers were scarce in many areas. Some shops sold out of water at various points, leading many residents to claim they will be investing in JoJo tanks as soon as they are able to.

Some schools with these tanks were also able to reopen as planned this morning while others without water and electricity remain closed.

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Many homes have had their electricity restored by now, but those first few days without power were eye-opening. Not only were people without water, but there was no electricity to make food. Community grocery stores were unable to supply fresh food in the first couple of days as their deliveries did not arrive due to flood ravaged roads, and many take-away outlets and local restaurants had no stock or electricity. Families had to get creative.

Like those with JoJo tanks, people with gas stoves were in fortunate positions. So too were those who had access to braais and coal. In addition to being able to boil water (if they had been able to buy or get from water tankers) over the coals, people learned how to ‘braai’ other food, besides meat. Toasted sandwiches, eggs, porridge, and even stews and curries were made this way.

In addition to finding new ways to cook food, KZN residents will also, hopefully, be better prepared for water outages in future. Some lessons that have been learned include:

  • having baby/wet wipes on hand for quick cleaning
  • having a number of buckets and large containers with which to harvest rain water for flushing
  • keeping a bath full of water as a back-up when it looks like water shortages could be on the way
  • showering and washing hair with bottled water squeezed through tiny hand-made holes in the cap

With climate change a reality and municipal and national infrastructure continually failing – and resulting in higher stages of load shedding and more regular water outages – South Africans will, in fact, have to be better prepared.