Weathering the weather
SOUTH Africans are counting the cost of mother nature after vicious storms lashed Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal this week. It began on Monday when tornadoes ripped through Krugersdorp. The storm then worked its way up and across Gauteng, killing one person and injuring at least 11 in an orgy of destruction.
Roof sheets were blown off a school in Krugersdorp, as well as the Cradlestone Mall in the same area.
Flights at OR Tambo International Airport were delayed and the provincial government said about 840 houses were damaged.
On Tuesday it was Durban’s turn, with unimaginable footage of torrential rain and floods. At least 14 people have perished and others are unaccounted for.
No one has any idea what the cost will be to repair the damage. Most people are just grateful that the rain and the hail have stopped, the harbour in Durban has been reopened and people are able to start picking up the pieces of their lives.
In Cape Town, ironically, residents are faced with the fact that their water supplies are fast running out – perhaps even before the much-vaunted desalination plants can become operational to create drinking water from the sea.
The issues seem disparate – too much water all at once in parts of the country and nothing in others.
The truth about our country is that we have always been one of extremes – of harsh, merciless droughts followed by periods of damaging downpours.
One of the problems is that we haven’t done enough to prepare for the various possible scenarios.
We have few ways of collecting the rain when it comes, storing it for the times when there is none.
We seem to have insufficient warning of imminent dangerous weather, and far too many people choose to live in dangerous conditions, below the floodlines in some cases, but who are not stopped from doing so.
Sometimes there are moments – acts of God, as the insurers term them – which we can neither foresee nor reasonably protect ourselves from, but so too are there times when we should have foreseen the consequences of drought; we should have built more catchment dams but we didn’t.
The advent of climate change and global warming has made this debate all the more urgent. We might not get another chance to make a difference.