Heavy weather to move to Cape

Cape Town - The Western Cape should brace for a difficult winter when the heavy rainfall and flooding devastating the north of the country moves south, national disaster management warned on Wednesday.

"It is going to continue like this until May and then drift into the Western Cape in June-July," Maphaka Tau, a senior manager at the National Disaster Management Centre, told Parliament's portfolio committee on co-operative governance.

Tau added that the "Western Cape situation concerns us" and said the province's disaster management structures were warned this week to prepare themselves "pro-actively".

Parts of the southern Cape could also suffer, he said.

Tau conceded that the disaster that had so far claimed an estimated 70 lives and affected 8 000 households had shown up weaknesses in government structures in containing the fallout from extreme weather.

Weakness to prepare for disasters

He cited a failure to open sluice gates on the over-flowing Gariep and Vanderkloof dams - both 111% full - and a delay in opening the sluices on the Vaal Dam as an example of lack of expertise in the water affairs department.

"Somebody with a risk management understanding... would have monitored these dam levels. We would not have had a situation where the dam level comes to more than 100% and then they just leave it."

The government has defended the handling of the situation on the Vaal, saying it managed the release of water in the way it did to prevent massive flood damage.

Tau said the Vaal reached the 100% level on Wednesday.

He added that the flooding, brought on by torrential rains as a result of extreme weather phenomena in the Pacific, had revealed weaknesses in South Africa's overall capacity to prepare for disasters.

"Within SADC (the Southern African Development Community) we had a meeting and SADC requested that we submit contingency plans. We were kind of found wanting on that. We were not able to do that because of that capacity challenge."

The meeting of the regional bloc took place in Botswana in October, but the first forecasts of bad weather conditions came as early as August.

Western Cape disaster management was not immediately available for comment.
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