Flood victims in South Africa’s port city of Durban had yet to recover from last month’s historic rain when another storm hit this weekend. Victims and experts say it is a signal that better urban planning is needed to protect residents and their livelihoods from future extreme weather.
It has been over a month since historic floods in South Africa’s eastern province of KwaZulu-Natal made nearly 7,000 people homeless.
But their numbers are growing as heavy rains and repeat floods hit the port city of Durban last weekend, destroying more homes, and damaging temporary shelters.
Emily Hector is a community leader in the Durban township of Umlazi and is supporting a shelter in a community hall.
“It’s not getting better. It’s getting worse,” she said. “… So if it happens for the rain to come back again. So that means we won’t have a shelter to accommodate other people because the people, the halls right now, it’s overloaded.”
KwaZulu-Natal officials say at least 250 people were evacuated from shelters.
South African federal authorities earmarked $63 million for clean-up and rebuilding while funds are also coming from various levels of government and aid groups.
But victims say they haven’t been told when they will get to move to longer-term housing.
28-year-old flood victim Masbonge Dlamini lived in an informal settlement in Umlazi.
“We don’t have another space. If we do, we will try by all means to escape for all escape, escape to that place directly,” Dlamini said. “We will not going to go to a hall whereby you will sleep with many people as far as we are here with, because it’s because we don’t have a choice. We don’t have another places.”
Experts are calling South Africa’s severe weather damage a wake-up call for better disaster management in the face of climate change.
Alize le Roux is a senior researcher for the Institute for Security Studies in Pretoria.
“I think it shows us that we are definitely not prepared for even worse storms in what we see now,” Le Roux said. “And to be clear, what climate change will do is it will shift these systems even more. So we need to be prepared for seeing what we’ve saw on a more regular basis. So more often, we will see these types of flooding.”
But experts say re-building from damage like South Africa’s flooding is also an opportunity to safeguard from future extreme weather.
Le Roux’s advice includes keeping homes and infrastructure out of floodplains, developing more precise early warning systems, and having clear evacuation plans.
“We need to think about restoring ecological infrastructure — so upstream, ensuring that we manage our basins or water basins adequately and rightly enough so that we actually mitigate flooding,” Le Roux said. “We also need to think about the vulnerabilities within communities so things like addressing poverty, the systemic drivers of why people are locating on these high-risk spaces.”
Many of the South African flooding victims lived in informal settlements on city outskirts with poor infrastructure.
They say more public housing inside the cities would be safer, offer better access to public services, and help prevent more people from ending up homeless.