Time up for beachside building?

2008-06-20 00:00

Rising sea levels and climate change are becoming facts of life along the KwaZulu-Natal coast — and this might be residents’ last chance to erect or repair buildings in high-risk areas.

Andrew Mather, project executive for coastal policy in the eThekwini Metro, said yesterday there is a “strong possibility” that the Coastal Management Bill, which is about to go to Parliament after a six-year wait, could rule out both new developments and rebuilding of damaged ones in danger zones.

These include areas in front of a coastal setback line, where beach erosion is most likely, as well as floodplains, and could stop people living too close to beaches and estuaries. Although the ramifications of the looming legislation aren’t yet clear, it will bring radical changes, he predicted.

The new law could let people know where they stand after disasters like this week’s floods and the high tides of March 2007. “When there is a disaster people lose all rationality … We need to plan ahead and stick to that plan,” he said.

Even though the disasters of March 2007 and June 2008 are completely different, they both point to climate change.

The problem with climate change, Mather said, is that there is “never an even step”. For example, erosion along the shoreline on the Bluff accelerated for a time and then slowed. It is impossible to come up with hard figures or predictions.

Mather said that in the wake of the devastation caused by the high waves last year, property owners simply didn’t know what to do or what help, if any, the government would offer.

Mather said taking action to avert disasters, like removing buildings in danger areas, is complicated. “People don’t want to move. Moving costs money and property owners do not want to lose their investments. The government does not have the funds to expropriate properties”.

He explained that in terms of the pending legislation all municipalities would have to put in place a coastal management plan and a shore management plan. This would try to predict which areas are most likely to be at risk from weather and sea level changes.

Risky assets would be identified and a decision made on how to react in each case. “We will have to decide whether we will defend it or whether we will retreat, whether we can remove it and rebuild it in a most sustainable location.”

Mather said retreating or rebuilding in better locations are the most likely interventions.

However, there are two other options — to do nothing, the most likely for uninhabited stretches of coastline, or to advance the shoreline, not an option in South Africa.

He said that, ahead of the new bill, the eThekwini Metro is putting in place a shoreline management plan for the south Durban basin, which will be rolled out along the entire Durban coastline over the next three years.

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