KwaZulu-Natal floods ‘the worst we’ve ever seen’

At least 40 000 people have been left homeless after KwaZulu-Natal received four months of rain in one day, prompting the government to put South Africa back in a national state of disaster after a recently suspended two-year spell in response to Covid-19.

“These are the worst floods we’ve ever seen. In over 24 hours, there was 300 to 400mm of rain,” Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma told a news conference on Tuesday, crediting climate change as a catalyst for the extreme weather. 

“February is usually the wettest month, where we get about 102mm in one month. This tells us climate change is here with us now. Scientists are telling us eastern parts of the country will be wetter with frequent floods and the west is dryer with frequent droughts. Each will be worse than the last.”

Echoing President Cyril Ramaphosa, who reinstated the state of disaster as of 18 April — this time not due to Covid-19 but the extreme weather in KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape — Dlamini Zuma said hundreds of people had died, 4 000 homes have been destroyed and 8 000 damaged. 

Premier Sihle Zikalala later updated the death toll to 448.

Dlamini Zuma said the reason for reinstating the national state of disaster was that the effect of the floods was well beyond a single province, making it imperative for the government to come on board, and for international support.

“Countries have written to the government saying they’d like to support, such as Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Algeria, and Japan. We have not received it yet, but they have requested to know what’s needed,” she said.

All hands on deck 

Mmaphaka Tau, who leads the Disaster Management Centre, said multiple task teams were being sent to assist with ensuring an integrated approach to managing affected areas. 

“Infrastructure, humanitarian, funding, food, health and medical task teams have been activated and will function immediately at provincial and municipal levels,” he said.

“It’s all hands on deck.” 

 Dlamini-Zuma said the Disaster Management Act allows the intervention to be up to three months, but it can be terminated earlier or extended.  

The reinstated national state of disaster is different to that for Covid-19 because the floods are a “definitive occurrence that is unlike the pandemic”, she added.

“This is a national disaster which cuts across every sector like infrastructure — water, electricity, transport. It has a humanitarian side, which is urgent. People need food, blankets, shelter, beds, and need to be moved to temporary housing before moving to permanent housing.”

Under a national state of disaster, the government can call on the South Africa National Defence Force for assistance. The army had been helping in flood-hit areas such as Inanda Dam before the national state of disaster was declared, said Dlamini Zuma.  

“People were completely trapped. Those who died there had been airlifted out using helicopters and more will come.” 

Providing relief and protecting property

Under the national state of disaster, the primary responsibility is assigned to the national government to provide relief, recovery and rehabilitation to people, said Dlamini-Zuma. 

In his national address on April 18, Ramaphosa said rebuilding and reconstruction will start this week. 

On Tuesday Dlamini Zuma said: “Vouchers for building materials will be issued to residents to help fix their homes instead of waiting for the government to rebuild and repair every home. Those whose homes are completely destroyed will move to temporary homes being built as soon as possible.” 

The task teams will work on identifying areas for permanent rehousing areas, she added. 

“We should be building back better. No one should be building back in river beds and floodplains, in areas not geographically safe for residents. This is to ensure that we assist and protect the public, provide relief, protect property, prevent and protect any destruction to life,” Dlamini-Zuma said. 

To submit requests or correspondence to the Centre for Disaster Management, phone 012 848 4704 or 012 848 4705 or email [email protected]

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Kimberley Schoeman
Kimberley Schoeman is a sophisticated and eccentric wordsmith at the Mail & Guardian. A tastemaker in the making, she is in pursuit of the best in culture, fashion, and style.

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