When incessant rainfall led to floods that devastated large parts of KwaZulu-Natal over the past week, there should have been a crescendo of anger and frustration.
The loss of life is tragic. We are forced to ask if anything could have been done to mitigate the effects of the floods.
For at least the past 20 years, climatologists and scientists have been begging the world – its citizens and leaders – to listen to their warning: The planet is heating up, leading to disastrous disruptions to climate patterns.
While the continent has contributed the least to global gas emissions, it is already suffering debilitating effects.
Ecosystems and biodiversity are under severe threat, with mass extinctions predicted.
Agricultural productivity in Africa has already declined by 34% and any further warming will place immense pressure on food systems, including marine and freshwater fisheries.
Extreme variability in rainfall and river discharges has had a largely negative impact on multisectoral water-dependant areas.
Cities and human settlements will not be spared. By 2030, it is predicted that up to 116 million people will be affected by rising sea levels, increasing to 245 million by 2060.
Heat waves will also become common.
READ: ANALYSIS | With climate change causing severe weather, KZN floods may just be the beginning
So what must be done? It is no longer enough to stand on podiums and lament the arrival of the climate crisis. Action is needed!
Governments must invest heavily in technological and institutional solutions. Financing must be made available. Data collection must be strengthened, as well as investment in early warning systems based on targeted climate services that allow for effective disaster risk reductions, including social protection programmes and managing risks to health and food systems.
The world will never be the same again, but we can prevent a full-blown climate catastrophe and we can manage the fallout with effective forward-thinking plans. Wake up!
The words from Abahlali baseMjondolo, a movement representing shackdwellers, pierced the heart this week.
“Since 2005, we have been saying that the conditions under which we are forced to live in a repressive society are dangerous and undignified,” the movement said.
It was speaking as floods wreaked havoc in KwaZulu-Natal, claiming more than 350 lives and devastating the province’s infrastructure.
One of the most iconic structures to be hit by the floods was Sapref, South Africa’s largest crude oil refinery. Located just south of Durban, the refinery was totally submerged and workers had to be airlifted to safety.
Elsewhere, there were pictures and footage of trucks being washed out to sea. One of them carried hundreds of domestic-use gas canisters that were immediately seized by a group of looters.
The N2 highway near Isipingo and Umlazi was totally submerged, resembling a massive river.
Houses and schools as far afield as Hammarsdale and Pinetown to the west of Durban, and luxury houses in the resort town of Umdloti to the north, succumbed to mudslides.
READ: KZN floods: Families spend Good Friday at mortuary looking for bodies of loved ones
Industry came to a standstill as numerous bridges were also swept away.
Granted, the floods are accidents of nature, but they came at a time when infrastructure was already in advanced stages of neglect in many parts of the province. Drainage had become an afterthought. Bridges and roads had not been attended to, especially in impoverished neighbourhoods.
Sad as they are, the floods should be a wake-up call to the authorities to take the issue of infrastructure development and maintenance seriously. It has to happen now.