/ 1 September 2022

Auditor General Tsakani Maluleke: State response to KZN floods too slow

Of the 4 983 households affected by the floods only 1 197 have been assessed and the majority are still living in mass-relief shelters. Photos: Delwyn Verasamy/M&G

Auditor General Tsakani Maluleke on Wednesday told parliament’s ad hoc committee on flood disaster and relief that the government’s response to the devastating floods that hit KwaZulu-Natal, and to a lesser extent the Eastern Cape, in April and May was inadequate and “far too slow”. 

There was a need for a critical evaluation and strengthening of internal controls and disaster management capabilities to deal with natural disasters in the future, she said. 

According to an announcement made by then-premier Sihle Zikalala in June, 461 KwaZulu-Natal residents died during the flooding — a result of four days of incessant rainfall in April, and two days in May. Houses and buildings collapsed, private and public infrastructure was damaged, some of which is still being repaired, and thousands were displaced. 

Maluleke was presenting the first series of real-time reports to the committee, which included the outcomes of the audit up to 15 July. 

The report focused on the provision of mobile classrooms and kitchens to severely damaged schools, temporary residential units to those whose homes were swept away in the floods, and water tanker services in KwaZulu-Natal. It also detailed findings of the social relief efforts in KwaZulu-Natal and Eastern Cape.

“The overall response to the disaster has been too slow to alleviate the hardship of flood victims. It is evident that the government’s ability to respond to the disaster was not adequate,” said Maluleke.  

“The compromised control environments of auditees and weaknesses that exist in intergovernmental coordination undermine delivery on even the best disaster response plans and will continue to do so if not addressed.  

“Although the government had responded by committing to provide temporary relief measures, there was a lack of urgency in assessing damage and determining needs particularly in the Eastern Cape where there was a limited response,” she said.  

The provision of water to eThekwini metropolitan residents was delayed because of the poor planning and delivery of water to all affected areas, resulting in tankers not meeting demand. 

Maluleke said only 62% of the fleet was available for use. 

The report also found that in KwaZulu-Natal, the department of  human settlements did not timeously assess and validate displaced households as beneficiaries for temporary residential units. This resulted in only 1 197 of the 4 983 displaced households having been assessed. Of those assessed, 894 households had been validated as beneficiaries between 9 May and 10 June 2022. The government was forced to make provision of temporary residential units for these residents.

“The slow progress and validation of displaced households negatively affects the quality of life of those who have lost their homes during the floods, as they remain in mass-relief shelters. They are also required to commute greater distances to work and school at an increased cost, adding to the burdens of an already high cost of living and unemployment,” said Maluleke. 

The floods damaged 356 schools in KwaZulu-Natal. The provincial education department has estimated that the repairs — to commence in September — will cost R235.38-million. The repairs are to be completed in March next year. 

The report said that some schools were damaged so severely that mobile units had to be provided as an interim measure to enable the continuity of education and ensure the safety of learners and staff members. More than 70 mobile units were needed at 26 schools in the Umlazi, Pinetown and Ugu areas.  

According to the report, the South African Social Security Agency provided relief to flood victims by 31 July 2022 in the form of about 99 500 hot meals and 10 894 food vouchers for groceries in KwaZulu-Natal. Sassa said 2 637 items of humanitarian goods were delivered, 4 159 cash distributions were paid directly into bank accounts, and 816 school uniforms were provided in both KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape.

The auditor general’s recommendations included urgent action from national, provincial and municipal governments when delivery was slow or compromised, and strengthening of intergovernmental process and coordination to avoid failure in the infrastructure rebuilding phase.