Effects of failure to prepare for climate change felt at local level

The flooding in the past few days has raised a debate about the state of readiness over climate change. Picture: Theo Jeptha/ African News Agency (ANA)

The flooding in the past few days has raised a debate about the state of readiness over climate change. Picture: Theo Jeptha/ African News Agency (ANA)

Published Oct 1, 2023


Kershni Ramreddi

THE recent floods in the Western Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Eastern Cape have highlighted the effects of climate change in South Africa.

The flooding has wreaked havoc on communities, infrastructure, agriculture, and the economy. This past weekend saw the most rainfall in the Western Cape since 1976. Nature’s fury released seemingly unprecedented intensity in several parts of South Africa, with rooftops ripped off, roads submerged, and communities shut off from the outside world. More rain fell on three days over the Heritage Day weekend than in the previous two months.

Climate change amplified the severe rain and flooding that raced over the Western Cape over the last two days, killing at least 11 people and requiring the evacuation of about 1,000 low-lying houses.

The Western Cape government anticipates that climate change will exacerbate the province’s natural variability in weather patterns, resulting in floods and droughts. We would observe increasingly severe and unpredictable weather patterns as the Earth’s temperature continues to rise due to the accumulation of greenhouse gases.

The infrastructure of the country is subject to extreme weather events. In urban locations, inadequate drainage infrastructure exacerbates flooding, causing property damage and interruptions.

In order to lessen flood danger, the government should improve infrastructure, improve drainage systems, and implement land-use planning and zoning restrictions. Early warning systems should be in place that notify people of potential flooding events.

Community education and preparedness are critical for mitigating the effects of flooding.

Communities can be trained to respond efficiently to flood alerts and to undertake disaster risk reduction measures, seeing as the government’s disaster management plan requires more attention.

Due to global warming, the climate system is becoming more active, which is causing increasingly extreme rainfall events all across the world. Rain appears to be more intense because the Earth is warming, more water is evaporating into the atmosphere, and there is more water available for rain to fall.

Extreme rainfall is always more likely as the temperature rises, and this is exactly what we are seeing. We all know that the temperature is rising – we see it year after year.

South Africa’s climate change response focuses on the disaster management and infrastructure sectors, as well as municipalities. It is the development planning, risk mitigation, and disaster response planning of these sectors, rather than the overarching climate change response plan, that deals with flood readiness and response.

Following the recent floods, some mitigating techniques that should be considered include developing mechanisms for providing early warning to at-risk communities, increasing flood awareness at the community level, and improving emergency response capabilities. The recent floods killed many people, displaced them from their homes, and ultimately took their lives.

Children and adults were electrocuted in impoverished informal settlements near Cape Town. Many homes in the poor townships on Cape Town’s outskirts constructed their own electricity connections, with people connecting their houses or shacks to existing power lines themselves. They are illegal, harmful, and fairly widespread.

Rivers burst their banks and flooded residential areas and essential roadways both along the coast and inland.

Hundreds of people have been evacuated. Weather-related outages knocked out power to more than 80,000 people across the province. The number had been reduced to 15,000 on Tuesday after the rain had stopped. Three people were killed after being swept away by flood waters in Overberg’s primary agricultural district.

The area is one of South Africa’s most important wheat-growing regions, and the floods caused significant damage to crops and infrastructure.

When governments fail to prepare for and mitigate against climate change, the most impact is suffered at the local level.

Local governments and municipalities must prioritise strategic planning in the following areas: vital infrastructure and drainage maintenance, establishment of effective public health and early warning systems, disaster management plans with adequate resources, and disaster training.

In an age of climate change, ensuring minimal loss of life and infrastructure damage is not a “nice to have”, it is a fundamental right of citizens everywhere and an essential necessity for our urban survival.

Due to the lack of a solid and systematic disaster response, residents have been forced to seek aid through their respective local government officials and councillors, with limited success. Civil society and the compassion of neighbours have mobilised a swift reaction to the damage of communities.

Where is our climate-change protection when we need it the most? Given what is now widely acknowledged about climate change, our communities and local governments have failed to prepare for mitigation. This failure is directly attributable to the weight of selfish corruption.

Development decisions made in South Africa today, and how they exacerbate or alleviate climate change, have an impact not just on our future but also on our ability to live comfortably in the present.

A lack of adaptation and mitigation strategy for climate change dooms already vulnerable socio-economic groups to be the first to experience the harmful and life-threatening repercussions.

Climate change is inevitably a problem of environmental justice. These concerns confront us with a significant challenge as a society, and if we are to address them in ways that minimise harm to people, animals, plants, and the environment, we must be courageous in our belief that we can imagine a completely different world.

We urgently require transformational action. A swift and just transition to a clean, safe, and affordable society for all, with no worker or community left behind.

We need our government to prioritise the livelihoods of its citizens. South Africa urgently requires an inclusive transition!

*Kershni Ramreddi is Just and Energy project officer at the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance

**The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of Independent Media or IOL