In her career spanning more than 30 years as an environmental activist, physicist, sustainability philosopher and climate scientist, Vandana Shiva teaches us that what we do to our environment always comes back to us. Similarly, on the African continent, Nobel Peace prize winner Wangari Maathai taught us the importance of environmental sustainability through tree planting initiatives.
Through their life changing work, these two women have had tremendous effect on global sustainability initiatives and climate change campaigns, particularly with food security, indigenous peoples, environmental degradation and holistic green policy initiatives at the centre.
Climate change is no longer a 25- to 50-year projection. It is here, affecting to some extent our ways of life right now. The world is already witnessing some of the consequences of extreme weather changes.
In 2020, the Eastern region of the African continent was struck by some of the worst locust infestations in decades. The locust infestation was caused by extreme weather patterns in the region and further posed a serious risk to the region’s food security. Sudden weather change creates ideal conditions for billions of locust swarms in a relatively small area. Such locust swarms can consume enough food on a single day to feed 13 000 people. In 2021, we witnessed some of the worst flooding taking place in Western Europe. The floods caused damage of $12-billion.
Until recently, extreme weather changes and insect infestations were not a threat to South Africa and its food system. Now, we are already beginning to see some of their effects. Earlier this year, the City of Cape Town and other areas of the Western Cape experienced some of the highest temperatures in recent history. Temperatures of up to 45 degrees Celsius were recorded in some parts of the province. With climate change, the frequency of similar heat waves is set to increase.
Just 400km north of flood devastated KwaZulu-Natal is one of the most heavily polluted areas in the Southern Hemisphere, the Eskom power stations complex in Mpumalanga. In the Karoo and eastern areas of the Eastern Cape farmers are fighting one of the most extensive locust infestations to hit South Africa in decades. The Centurion area of the Tshwane metro has become host to what seemingly is an annual flooding event as the slim Juskei riverbank floods and cars are swept away.
These weather extremes evoke thinking about how much more of these events can the country and region take and be resilient? How many more should we be expecting in the next few years? What measures do we have in place to address these issues? Who bears the brunt of these increasingly, life threatening events? In her address of the recent flooding events in KwaZulu-Natal, Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma said the eastern region of South Africa is expected to become wetter.
South Africa’s wealth disparity comes into play when looking at the resilience of people to withstand extreme changes in weather. The worst affected in disasters such as the recent flooding in KwaZulu-Natal and the northern areas of the Eastern Cape are some of the most vulnerable members of our society. It is often painful to witness the burial of entire families such as the Mdlalose family of six who died in the floods.
Evidently, the government is not properly prepared for devastations such as those recent in the eastern region of the country. It should be a priority to implement precautionary measures to guard against similar devastations. For many years, climate change scientists have warned and predicted weather phenomena of similar magnitudes.
The government needs to put in place sustainability and green policies as a form of future protection and insurance for South Africa and its people. As we help and rebuild with those devastated by the KwaZulu-Natal floods, may we be forward thinking to prevent similar problems in future.
As a pioneering region in Africa, South Africa’s green policy initiatives and disaster protocols would provide important foundations in terms of development for her neighbours and other nations on the continent that are susceptible to disasters and famines caused by changing climatic conditions.
Batlhalifi Nkgothoe is a lecturer and research assistant in the sociology and anthropology department at Nelson Mandela University.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Mail & Guardian.