Now KZN is drowning in plastic after deadly floods
Torrential rains claimed more than 60 lives but it has also cost the province millions in environmental and economic damage
Torrential rains pounding KwaZulu-Natal not only caused devastating flooding and mudslides that left more than 60 people dead, it also brought the province to the brink of an environmental disaster.
As mop-up operations continued and President Cyril Ramaphosa visited the affected areas on Wednesday, environmental activists in Bayhead and Durban harbour worked tirelessly against a deluge of plastic flushed out from the city’s stormwater drains.
Ramaphosa, during a visit to Umlazi, where 10-year-old Mnotho Mlotshwa died when his home was swept away in a flash flood, paid tribute to those involved in rescue efforts.
“We want to thank the community, who were the real rescue heroes here. In a moment of great need you were able to come to the rescue. This is the sort of solidarity we want to see among our people. You have given them shelter, food and places to sleep,” Ramaphosa said.
“There have been outstanding rescues and lifesaving feats by many people, who jumped into the mud, who jumped into flowing water to save their children, their loved ones and other friends and neighbours. We commend our people for taking risky actions the way that they did.”
Ramaphosa then made his way to Westcliff in Chatsworth, where he met the relatives of a family of eight who died when their home was destroyed by a mudslide near Westcliff Secondary School.
The president reacted with shock at the sight of the home buried under thick mud on a steep embankment. He comforted the family and ensured them that the government “would be walking this dark journey” with them.
“As president, as well as on behalf of the government, we pass on our condolences to those who lost so many people in one go. We want to say: our hearts are with you. We are here to support the family and any others who have sought refuge here in the local church,” he said.
But further away at Durban harbour, another kind of rescue operation was under way.
The Blue Port project is run under the Wildlands Trust, a conservation organisation that helps with beach and harbour clean-ups.
Project manger Sibo Dlamini, who was picking up litter with a group at Wilson’s Wharf on Wednesday, said they were playing their part in the fight against pollution.
“Once the plastic has been picked up we then sell it to our (recycling) depot where it will be recycled and reused for something else,” said Dlamini.
He said pollution had cluttered the city’s waterway following Monday’s rains.
Nhlanhla Sibisi of Greenpeace Africa, an environmentalist organisation, believed the kilometres of plastic lining the beaches of Durban spoke directly to the campaign they had been running to eliminate single-use plastics.
“The scale of what we are seeing now in KZN is an example of what we have been campaigning against,” said Sibisi.
The campaign challenges the government to ban single-use plastics and to create better policies to deal with pollution.
Sibisi added that, in addition to government policy, the public needed to step up.
“In most cases, the way we discard these often non-reusable plastics has created the problem ... the scale of the problem relates to how we discard these plastics,” he said.
“We as customers have the power to demand that government and big business find a solution to deal with these plastics; we have the power to not support business who do not provide alternatives to the use of plastic.”
Numerous organisations have pledged to clean up the beach and harbour at the weekend.
Meanwhile, as activists battle to contain the environmental impact, the financial cost of the flood is mounting.
The Durban Chamber of Commerce and Industry said on Wednesday the magnitude and frequency of storms were proving to be a huge risk to the growth and development of the local economy in an already restricted economic environment.
“Several businesses were forced to cease operations as a result of damage to property, low productivity as employees were unable to travel to work, and the inability to transport and deliver goods and services to various destinations due to flooding and traffic congestion,” the chamber’s chief executive, Palesa Phili, said.
This resulted in poor turnaround times and inefficiencies that amounted to significant losses for businesses.
“Over and above this, small businesses may not have adequate insurance to recover their losses, (thereby) jeopardising their existence and sustainability going forward.
“If these losses are not recovered, over time the local economy can suffer significantly,” explained Phili.
Christelle Colman, an Old Mutual Insure expert, said the Durban flood catastrophe “reminds us of how fragile life is and we urge people in the area to remain safe as flooding continues”.
“So far, 95% of all claims we have received relates to property, with the remainder being motor claims. The non-motor claims vary from damaged roofs, internal damage to property, equipment and buildings, to completely destroyed structures.”
Old Mutual expected the number of claims would increase “drastically in the near future”.
“We call on all individuals in the affected areas to remain cautious and follow safety guidelines to ensure the protection of their homes, families and belongings.”
Discovery Insure chief operating officer Francois Theron said: “Discovery has received about 430 weather-related claims since the start of the Easter weekend in KZN, largely related to storm, hail, lightning and flood damage to property.”
The majority of the claims had emanated from Chatsworth and Ballito, “with the highest impact from storm and lightning damage”.