Extreme weather is becoming more frequent. South Africa’s devastating floods have been described “sheet upon sheet of relentless rain” that washed away entire houses, bridges and roads, killing about 450 people and making thousands homeless. The full extent of the devastation caused by the floods in South Africa this month is yet to become clear, with many victims still missing and authorities still learning of new damage. Many tens of thousands of people remain without water, and there are rising concerns about an outbreak of infectious disease.
The latest storm, which delivered close to an entire year’s usual rainfall in 48 hours, took meteorologists by surprise and has been blamed by experts on climate change. The new disaster comes after three tropical cyclones and two tropical storms hit south-east Africa in just six weeks in the first months of this year. Experts say the impact of the climate crisis is increasingly obvious across Africa, with tens of millions suffering from drought in the Sahel and parts of east Africa, while the continent’s southeastern coast is hit by intense storms.
The World Weather Attribution (WWA) network of scientists, which has pioneered ways to understand the causes of extreme weather events, said climate change had made the heavy rains along Africa’s south eastern coastline both heavier and more likely.
“Again we are seeing how the people with the least responsibility for climate change are bearing the brunt of the impacts,” said WWA co-founder Friederike Otto, of the Grantham Institute at Imperial College London.
The South African president, Cyril Ramaphosa, said, “It is telling us that climate change is serious, it is here. We no longer can postpone what we need to do, and the measures we need to take to deal with climate change.”
Ibrahima Cheikh Diong, the director general of African Risk Capacity, an agency set up by the African Union to help governments better plan for disasters and mitigate their impact, explained, “This is just the beginning of a series of extreme weather events that are linked to climate change… Africa pollutes least and suffers most from climate change.”
Poor people living in makeshift settlements built on unstable, steep-sided gorges around Durban were worst affected by the floods. Most have inadequate or no drainage systems and homes are sometimes flimsy shacks that offer little protection against the elements. After Tropical Storm Ana smashed into the region in January, Tropical Cyclone Batsirai hit Madagascar in early February, followed in quick succession by Tropical Storm Dumako and Tropical Cyclones Emnati and Gombe.
Analysis of Storm Ana in Malawi and Mozambique and during Cyclone Batsirai in Madagascar showed links with climate change.
“In both cases, the results show that rainfall associated with the storms was made more intense by climate change and that episodes of extreme rainfall such as these have become more frequent,” WWA said in a report of their findings. Their conclusions matched broader climate research showing that global heating can increase the frequency and intensity of rainfall.
Many countries in Africa are poorly prepared for such disasters. Though the most industrialised country on the continent, South Africa has struggled to deliver timely and efficient help to flood victims. One reason for the shortage of water among those displaced by the floods in and around Durban there is that around half of the local government’s fleet of 100 water tankers was found to be inoperable when officials ordered their deployment last week. Police used teargas to disperse protesters angry at a lack of assistance from authorities.
After the relentless rain, South Africa sounds the alarm on the climate crisis | South Africa | The Guardian