S. Africa declares national emergency after 440 flood victims , On April 18, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa proclaimed a national emergency as the death toll from flooding in the province of KwaZulu-Natal rose to more than 440, with dozens of others still unaccounted for.
In the 24 hours between April 11 and 12, the area surrounding Durban, the country’s third most populated city, got more than 300 mm of rain, making it the wettest day of the year in the country. This level of precipitation intensity is typically experienced during tropical cyclones.
Landslides and flash floods caused the destruction of almost 4,000 homes and the damaging of thousands more. An estimated 40,000 individuals have been forced to live on the streets. François Engelbrecht, the director of the Global Change Institute at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, told Mongabay that the intensity of the floods was “nearly unprecedented in South Africa.”
Schools, health-care institutions, and transportation networks were among the public infrastructures that suffered significant damage. More than 600 schools were demolished as a result of the disaster. Many people of the province who were able to flee the devastation of the floods are now dealing with a lack of safe drinking water and electricity.
It was the eThekwini metro region and the districts of iLembe, Ugu, King Cetshwayo, and uMgungundlovu that suffered the most devastation. This encompasses Durban and the surrounding areas. Heavy downpours and flooding were also seen in parts of the Eastern Cape region.
The closure of critical access routes leading to the port, which is one of the busiest in Africa, has also hampered operations at Durban International Airport. President Cyril Ramaphosa justified the declaration of a national emergency by citing the negative economic impact of the port interruptions on the country’s economy.
The South African Police Service (SAPS) and the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) are in charge of the search and rescue operations. This week, a total of 10,000 military personnel will be assigned to the activities. According to the SANDF, they will aid in the search for approximately 50 persons who are still unaccounted for, as well as the distribution of supplies to victims.
“There are complex drivers behind our weather patterns, and rising global temperatures have disrupted these systems,” Greenpeace campaigner Thandile Chinyavanhu said in a prepared statement. “Climate change is unfolding violently before our eyes. It is not imminent – it is happening now.”
Within 24 hours, parts of KwaZulu-Natal received rainfall equivalent to three-quarters of what South Africa, as a whole, gets on average in an entire year. Extreme rainfall does occur in this section of South Africa’s eastern coast. A weather system called “cut-off low,” which moves from west to east over South Africa, brings powerful rainstorms to this region.
“Although cut-off lows and intense thunderstorms are part of the natural climate system of eastern South Africa, there is evidence that climate change is causing these events to occur more frequently and at a greater intensity than in the past,” Engelbrecht said.
Three years ago, 165 mm of rain fell in Durban over 24 hours, causing 71 deaths and displacing over 1000 people. This time the death toll is much higher and the damage more severe.
“Climate models are consistently projecting that further increases in intense rainfall events can be expected in the eastern parts of South Africa for as long as global warming continues,” Engelbrecht, one of the lead authors of IPCC’s sixth assessment report, said. “The occurrence of two devastating flood events in the Durban region within three years is a clear fingerprint of climate change impacting on South Africa.”
A UN report on climate impacts noted that one in a hundred-year floods are expected to occur multiple times a year by 2050. However, drawing a link between specific episodes and broader climatic phenomena is fraught. So is teasing out the role of natural climate variability and anthropogenic factors.
In this instance, it is particularly challenging because of a lack of reliable and comprehensive rainfall data going back decades. Despite the uncertainty, President Ramaphosa said in his address on April 18 that the flooding is a reminder of how a changing climate is fueling more extreme weather.