Climate Change: Preparing for the worst

2013-03-06 00:00

When it comes to disaster management and human settlements, higher rainfalls will see settlements on flood plains affected. People have to be encouraged to move. Flooding plus warmer weather will also lead to an increase in waterborne diseases, heat stress, flash flooding and the deterioration of food stuffs.

Impendle and Edendale are among the most vulnerable areas when it comes to flooding. They are also vulnerable to fire. In rural areas, increased fire risk creates an even greater need for education on how to make homes safer — moving away from grass thatching, for example. There also has to be a more rigorous regime when it comes to burning firebreaks.

Built-up urban areas are not immune to fire risk. “The threat found on municipal lands is very real,” said Rodney Bartholomew of the Msunduzi Municipality (Conservation and Environment Unit). “There is vacant land owned by the municipality, but it is not managed. It borders on suburban areas and we need to prepare firebreaks.”

Rodney Bartholomew of the Msunduzi Municipality (Conservation and Environment Unit) said that city centres act as heat islands. “The Pietermaritzburg city centre is four degrees hotter than surrounding areas. This is a problem for residents working outside and for older people walking on the streets.”

A simple solution would be to plant more trees, said Bartholomew. “Sections of Boom Street where there are trees are cooler than the adjacent streets.”

Infrastructure and services will experience climate-change impacts on roads, water supplies, electricity substations, dams, landfills and pipelines.

Higher rainfall might seem a plus in a water-starved country, but it must be stored. Storms will also see increased run-off of soil, creating siltage in rivers and dams, as well as causing problems in storm drainage systems. With this in mind, eThekwini Municipality is already increasing the measurements of its storm water drainage infrastructure by 15%.

“Ecological infrastructure needs to be on the table — this also supplies goods and services,” said Rodney Bartholomew of the Msunduzi Municipality (Conservation and Environment Unit). “For example, grasslands have slow run-off and prevent the silting of dams.”

Agriculture and commerce will be affected in various ways. Crops will become more vulnerable, not only to storm damage, but to disease. Climate change will see an increase in the prevalence of pests, diseases and invasive species. There will also be an impact on working conditions, with lower productivity due to increased heat and humidity.

Farmers have shorter time to burn firebreaks, thanks to longer rainy seasons and later frosts. Among the responses will have to be improved plant breeding, better weather forecasting and changes to planting and harvesting times.

On the plus side, certain crops, and trees, will give increased yields.

The threat to natural resources — to biodiversity and ecosystems — has seen the identification of climate-adaptation corridors developed by the Climate Action Partnership aimed, according to the Impact and Vulnerability Assessment, at “protecting and restoring important biodiversity through allowing space for species and ecosystems to changing climatic conditions”.

In uMgungundlovu, there are four corridors: the Tugela North corridor, the Tugela corridor, the Midlands corridor and the Berg corridor just to the west of the region. Another corridor has been identified in the Ashburton area.

Now that the vulnerabilities have been identified, once the response strategy has been finalised, this will have to be factored into municipal planning. The spatial development frameworks (SDFs) and integrated development plans (IDPs) must incorporate planning for climate change

“We’ve got to plan for that because that’s reality,” said Roland Schulze, Emeritus Professor Hydrology, School of Bioresources Engineering and Environmental Hydrology, UKZN. “But it’s also a case of doing what we should be doing anyway.”

Currently, there is no direct revenue stream aimed at financing the core functions necessary in a climate-change environment. Adaptation responses will have to be budgeted for. The response strategy plan is intended to provide the information that will enable politicians to budget for the future planning.

But there will also be a need for longer-term planning. Climate change means that municipalities will have to think longer term — no longer just a year in advance or until the next election.

“We need to plan for the future from the present — this is a gamechanger,” said Riaz Jogiat, the uMgungundlovu manager: municipal functions. “We need to plan in 20- and 30-year cycles.”

• feature1@witness.co.za

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