/ 7 July 2023

Business urges eThekwini metro to rebuild infrastructure, prepare for climate change

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This aerial view shows sports fields under water days after heavy rains in Durban on April 15, 2022. (MARCO LONGARI/AFP via Getty Images)

Durban businesses have criticised eThekwini metro for the slow pace of rebuilding the city after the July 2021 riots and April 2022 floods and for not sharing a detailed infrastructure plan to mitigate the effect of adverse weather conditions brought about by climate change.

The Durban Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DCCI), reacting to the findings of an interim report released by eThekwini metro this week, which estimated the cost of the most recent heavy rain on 27 June at “R287 million and counting”, called for the city to fast track its rebuild, saying businesses are worried about the insurability of their operations.

eThekwini said in a statement that the recent rains had “left a trail of destruction” across several wards, running into millions of rands, according to an interim progress report presented to the city’s executive committee on Thursday.

“The report sheds light on the extent of infrastructure damage, which is at an estimated cost of a staggering R287 million and counting. It also highlights the unfortunate loss of 11 lives and the widespread devastation inflicted upon homes, roads, and water and stormwater systems,” the statement read.

The interim report said that since the onset of the rainfall on 27 June, assessments of 1 019 households found that 3 031 people were affected, including 1 270 children. The municipality opened two shelters in Amaoti (ward 53) and CVV Church (ward 95) to house about 500 people.

The disaster management team, in collaboration with humanitarian agencies, the department of social development, and other social partners, had conducted the assessments and provided support to victims, it said.

Gift of the Givers Foundation Community Liaison Officer Bilall Jeewa said mostly older and poorly built homes had been flooded during the 27 June rains and the organisation had provided victims with 550 food hampers as well as building materials.

“As the situation continues to unfold, more incidents are being reported,” the municipality said. 

The report recommends that the executive committee, city manager and chief financial officer reallocate budgets to fund the damages and create reserves for future disasters.

“It further proposes authorising departments to initiate procurement processes for the rehabilitation of the infrastructure,” the municipality said.

Palesa Phili, chief executive of the Durban Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said that although the impact of the 27 June storm was not as bad as the April 2022 floods, it was a cause for concern.

“As organised business, we have not received any reports of major damages by businesses. However, based on our observation, small businesses and informal traders are worst affected by adverse weather conditions,” she said. “Many of these businesses are dependent on foot traffic and daily cash flow to sustain their operations.”

Phili said many businesses rebuilt and re-engineered their business operations after the July 2021 unrest and April 2022 floods. But, infrastructure restoration, which is the responsibility of local government as part of its service delivery mandate, was “happening at a very slow pace”.

“To date we have not received a detailed infrastructure investment plan from the city outlining the technical and risk mitigation measures. The city of Durban [eThekwini metro] remains vulnerable to adverse weather conditions. Unless drastic actions are implemented, we will be writing the obituary chapter of our city. The current state of our infrastructure requires urgent attention,” she said.

“The city’s supply chain management process, combined with corruption and political meddling, are at the heart of the service delivery challenges. Rebuilding the city’s once strong governance processes will be at the heart of turning around infrastructure delivery.” 

Phili said organised business was continuously in contact with the government to form a public-private partnership to develop a feasible financial model for water and sanitation, electricity distribution and stormwater systems. 

It has also called for the implementation of mechanisms to help strengthen the city’s resilience and mitigate against future risks, including an infrastructure emergency war room comprising the public and private sector; an infrastructure investment plan; and the development of a dashboard for monitoring progress.

“Many businesses in the South of Durban have raised concerns of their insurability against future flooding,” said Phili. “As organised business, we are deeply concerned as the South Durban Basin is home to the country’s largest manufacturers. If the city cannot provide a detailed plan outlining risk mitigation measures regarding its infrastructure, we believe many of these businesses will consider sourcing alternate investment destinations.” 

This would have adverse effects on the local economy and its international profile, she said.

The interim report will be submitted to the National Disaster Management Centre through the Provincial Disaster Management Centre for further support and intervention. Its final approval will take place during an upcoming full council meeting.