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How many homeless? Flood fiqures can differ by tenfold

However, the number of homeless is in dispute, with state figures of 56 581 being strongly contested by Natal University academics who say the total number of people whose houses will have to be rebuilt is over 500 000.

The Built Environment Support Group at Natal University, Durban, a group of experts in town planning, urban geography, architecture and other disciplines, sent teams out to do extensive surveys of flood-ravaged areas around Durban. Besg's initial figures, announced last weekend, were dismissed by the state.

In a report released yesterday, Besg says it is sticking to its estimate and suggests state figures may be based on the numbers "who most obviously present, themselves as homeless, occupying church halls or wandering in the rain", rather than including those whose homes will have to be rebuilt and who are living with relatives or occupying structures not fit, for habitation. In this way the state can present a picture of a manageable number of destitute "welfare cases" rather than a massive problem of reconstruction.

Besg surveys have been – conducted in the "Durban Functional Region" – from Amanzimtoti in the south to Verulam in the north and inland to Hammarsdale/Cato Ridge. In this area they found 18 67 dwellings destroyed and 32 000 so badly damaged that they are no longer habitable. Experience from other parts of the world indicates that in these kinds of floods and heavy rains, latent water caused damage surfaces within a year in 15 percent of houses.

In all, therefore, Besg believes 58 100 houses will have to be replaced in this region and, with an average of nine people in each, this means 522 900 people in the Durban Functional Region are effectively homeless. Over 40 percent of people in this area live in "informal settlements" and researchers feared their plight would be neglected according to the Besg report. They were also concerned that the people in these areas "would lose out in the allocation of disaster funds and that efforts would simply be directed to restoring the status quo rather than changing the conditions which have made the informal settlements the real victims of the disaster".

Simply to replace the existing shacks would cost a minimum of R1 000 each, involving a rehousing bill of over R50 million. Besg urges that the authorities adopt a different attitude and take the opportunity to ments are adequate. They said a crucial problem needing to be considered was "the issue which made the crisis possible – namely, the inadequacy of the state's provision of housing and/or properly planned sites with even the most basic services, the total lack of adequate infrastructure, and the poverty, lack of building skills and prevailing systems of land allocation and tenure which impede the development of ad- equate physical structures in shack areas".

This explains why so many homes in the informal areas were destroyed compared with only 70 houses made uninhabitable in the formally constructed part of Durban. Already many shack people are rebuilding their homes, but Besg warns that a shortage of suitable material is rapidly developing.

In some Durban city area water queues tempers are fraying and there has also been violence: members of the South Africa Police and the SA Defence Force are keeping guard in KwaMashu where people waiting for water have been fighting among themselves. In other parts of the city armed municipal guards are supervising queues at the tankers after a driver was, stabbed and the tanker's taps stolen. 

This article originally appeared in the Weekly Mail.

 

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Carmel Rickard
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