The crippling KZN floods of 2022: counting the human and economic cost

25 April 2022 17:00

The devastating human and economic impact of the most severe storm to hit KwaZulu-Natal in decades will remain for months, if not years, to come.

Within a single 24-hour period in early April 2022, parts of the region were battered by more than 300mm of rainfall, a staggering third of the province’s average annual rainfall. The heavy downpour was caused by a strong cut-off low weather system off the east coast of southern Africa. One out of 10 of these is reported to produce severe weather conditions that lead to localised flash flooding.

Twelve days after the catastrophic storm, the death toll stood at more than 400 while scores more remain missing. The torrential rains brought lethal landslides that left disaster in their wake; it is estimated that 8 300 houses have been damaged, and almost 4 000 completely destroyed. Over 40 000 people are believed to be homeless and with no access to water, sanitation or power. According to international NGO, Doctors Without Borders, the threat of diseases such as cholera looms large.

According to the Department of Basic Education close on 60 learners were killed in the floods, with some still missing. More than 600 schools were affected, with 124 extensively damaged and 100 completely inaccessible.

Infrastructure damage, including transportation, communication and electrical systems, has been brutal. Countless roads and bridges across the region were damaged, and in many cases, completely destroyed. Pipelines and pump stations were wrecked, leaving  great swathes of the province without water, while flooded power station left many without electricity. The busy Durban port took a hammering, causing major backlogs, while Transnet’s railway line from Durban was also damaged during the flooding. The destruction has hampered the transport of commodities such as automotive, fuel and grain, and impacted negatively on KZN’s already struggling economy. It has also stymied the recovery and relief efforts in many areas.

The rebuilding that lies ahead, particularly in a region still reeling from the destructive July 2021 unrest, is overwhelming. Human Settlements Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi estimated that the cost of repairing damaged homes in the province is around R1.9 billion. Added to this is another R5.6 billion needed to repair ravaged road infrastructure.

Insurance claims are set to run into hundreds of millions. Insurance giant Old Mutual alone reports having already received flood -related claims of over R245 million.

Officially declaring the situation a national disaster, President Cyril Ramaphosa said that given the extent and impact of the floods, the designation of a provincial state of disaster was inadequate to deal with the scale of the emergency and the required reconstruction and rehabilitation measures and responses. He described the events as a “humanitarian disaster that calls for a massive and urgent relief effort”.

The government has committed about a billion rand in relief funding, which includes a special SASSA relief of distress grant  for those left destitute by the floods. This includes food vouchers, cash assistance for those who lost family members, as well as the replacement of lost school uniforms.

Many NPOs, NGOs and civil society organisations, most notably the Gift of the Givers, are bolstering the government’s relief effort. The cities of Cape Town and Tshwane have deployed search and rescue teams to the battered region, while 10 000 SANDF troops are also on the ground.