“The floods are a real call to conscience”: New Frame

The anguished faces of people bereaved by the floods that devastated KwaZulu-Natal stare at social media posts with images of the deluge of mud, flattened houses, sunken roads, torn bridges, mangled metal, broken furniture , rotten and soggy garbage. mattress drying slowly in the sun.

As KwaZulu-Natal rebuilds, kindness is easing the otherwise bleak picture, but what soothes the broken province won’t fix it. KwaZulu-Natal Institute of Architecture president Sikhumbuzo Mtembu said climate change makes it difficult to predict the severity and frequency of natural disasters, but the floods illustrate the need for the city to Urgently engage with building industry professionals rather than excluding them from planning.

“We need to innovate around a host of issues to create resilient cities. The level of good neighborliness during this difficult time demonstrates the spirit we need.

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Durban architect Richard Stretton bemoans poor urban planning and lack of infrastructure investment in Durban. Both have resulted in an increase in hard surfaces and a reduction in natural spaces that act like sponges to soak up more rain falling faster and more frequently due to climate change.

Globally, building industry professionals are increasingly using digital tools to better understand the natural absorption of large-scale cities. Stretton says: “We need to better manage and plan our water infrastructure. Flood damage aside, streets are collapsing and sinkholes are forming big enough to engulf trucks.

“There are many expensive developments in the city that fail to responsibly implement water mitigation systems. This, combined with poor maintenance of stormwater systems, causes erosion.

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Immediately after the floods, Jeff Smithers, director of the University of KwaZulu-Natal Water Resources Research Center, told The Associated Press that poor maintenance of Durban’s drainage systems had worsened flooding in the city.

Brendon Jewaskiewitz of the Institute of Waste Management says the “shocking” amount of waste in KwaZulu-Natal has painted a picture of failed waste management that has been a “red flag”. Circular economy strategist Chris Whyte said it’s nearly impossible to quantify the amount of litter that has washed away rivers and in many cases helped wipe out entire communities, “but you can see thousands of tons of plastic that has been spat out of the rivers and washed up on the beach that the aqueducts are seriously blocked.

“We’ve had warnings like this before and we don’t acknowledge them. We need serious engagement around the entire value chain… The fact is the system is screwed and we all need to take responsibility for determining a new course of action.

People left behind

While much of KwaZulu-Natal is a hive of activity aimed at restoring critical infrastructure and rebuilding homes, many people remain almost entirely without the means to recover. They survive with the help of neighbors and religious groups.

Puleng Maneke’s family are among 238 people in Durban identified for priority aid by a task force from the Abahlali baseMjondolo shack dwellers’ movement. Maneke is unemployed and takes care of his two children and his orphaned niece and nephew. They rushed out of their house minutes before it rolled down a steep slope into eNkanini’s cabin at Cato Manor.

“We are so grateful to be alive. Losing material possessions is one thing, but we have our lives,” she says. “I don’t know what to do. We are now stuck with neighbors and invading their space Imagine what it’s like for them to be five of us. We all sleep in one bed. We just wander around until bedtime because we don’t want to intrude. It won’t be easy to rebuild our huts.You can’t build a real house because the terrain is steep and full of water… It’s devastating.

Security officer Andlile Tshunzi considers himself lucky: he has a job and two tools, a broken hammer and a spade. He started rebuilding his house on his day off the last week of April. He estimates it will take two months. Meanwhile, he, his wife and their baby are living with his sister. The trio watched their house as it slipped in the flood. Tshunzi says, “We felt so bad, but we are lucky to be alive and no one is missing. My friends gave me materials. I can rebuild my house.

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As families bury many of the more than 400 people drowned or killed in landslides, clean-up operations are underway. Hundreds of loaders clean up tons of debris, excavators dig canals, mobile hoists install emergency power pylons and welders join massive new water pipes. The state puts the cost of reconstruction at R17 billion, and there is a vigorous campaign for full transparency of government spending on reconstruction.

Jomo Sibiya, a KwaZulu-Natal member of the human settlements and public works executive council, said while the government estimates the flooding has affected more than 16,600 households, it has identified around 4,300 families whose homes have been destroyed. completely destroyed. “We must hasten to point out that this is a moving target.”

He says the state is building temporary three-bedroom units for these families. The units sit on concrete slabs, cost R68,000 and can be built in three days. “We are moving with speed to get people out of a state of misery, 11 days [after the floods] the concrete was being poured, although we were bothered by the rain.

The extent of the damage is difficult to assess with precision. The Sibiya office says reports continue to leak from remote areas where people are stuck in churches, community halls, neighbors’ homes and, in one case, a trade store. While there are feverish attempts to house people and clean up, communities have little faith in the capacity of the state.

“Ignored or Rejected”

At Cato Manor, a densely populated settlement just outside the town centre, local resident Osman Mponda inspects the pile of trash bags stacked up for collection. “The dump trucks should arrive on Tuesday and Thursday, but they haven’t come for a week, so I have no idea. Sometimes they don’t come for a month. The smell is terrible. So are flies and rats.

Nearby, Jabulile Zulu and her son Thabiso run a souvenir shop in front of their house. It was damaged by the floods, but they have long since given up any form of social housing. “There is no chance. Houses go to greedy politicians and their friends,” says Jabulile.

Abahlali national organizer Busisiwe Diko says the government has abandoned the shack dwellers. “I was born in 1994 and since then our dignity has been violated. The ANC needs us when it comes time to vote. The rest of the time, we are ignored or rejected.

Diko pointed out where rocks and trees have collapsed on shacks. The land is not ideal for building, she says, but people are desperate for housing close to jobs. “We have the right to decent housing and yet the municipality refuses to talk to us. It would help a little if we had access to land surveyors or engineers to tell us where to build to be safe.

The Department of Human Settlements has publicly called on retired engineers, project managers and building inspectors to apply for six-month contracts to help rebuild, but built environment specialists criticize the government’s efforts so far. ‘now.

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On the contrary, it was once again the community that rallied, albeit only superficially in part. Raymond Perrier, who runs the Denis Hurley Centre, a Durban organization that cares for the homeless, says public responses to Covid-19, the July riots and flooding have been a “fabulous flurry of activity humanitarianism that represents a comforting generosity and an instinct”. to help”.

The three crises have reminded the people of KwaZulu-Natal, often separated by race, class, culture and creed, that their lives are inextricably linked. But, says Perrier, solidarity was only a response to external threats.

“The response to insider threats is one of complaints and complacency. Cleanses and feeding programs are wonderful, but are we examining the cause of our problems? We must constantly remind ourselves that in a society, I cannot succeed on my own: we must all rise or fall together. When we don’t see this, it leads to racism, xenophobia and other forms of exclusion.

The visible effects of the floods, he says, will hopefully raise awareness of the drastic inequalities. “Why do people have to build huts on muddy slopes? The floods are a real call to conscience. We don’t want to be reminded of poverty or face the hopeless lack of moral leadership. We need a sustained response to this, protesting the essential failings of government and demanding an immediate remedy, rather than just dithering. »

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