South African Deluge Could Be Country's Deadliest Storm

South African Deluge Could Be Country's Deadliest Storm

Heavy rains and flash flooding last week in the KwaZulu-Natal province in South Africa have led to nearly 400 deaths in what South African President Cyril Ramaphosa describes as a "catastrophe of enormous proportions.” As the search for missing people continues, it could be the country’s deadliest storm yet. Nearly one foot of rain fell over the course of 24 hours, which is four times the monthly average in just one day, collapsing homes, roads, and other infrastructure as the ground washed out from below. Rainwater and runoff "flooded highways to such depths that only the tops of traffic lights poked out, resembling submarine periscopes,” the Guardian reported.

"This disaster is part of climate change,” said Ramaphosa. “We no longer can postpone what we need to do … to deal with climate change. It is here, and our disaster management capability needs to be at a higher level.”

NBC: More Than 340 Dead In South African Flood, April 14, 2022.

Telegraph: Tropical Storm Ana wreaks havoc across southern Africa, January 28, 2022.

Why This Matters

To echo South Africa’s president, climate change is indeed here. That means preparation and management systems for disasters like this one need to be ready for future climate-changed storms. Storms like this are unusual for South Africa, as are the ones that hit southeastern Africa earlier this year, which scientists say were intensified by climate change. Certainly, increasing sea and air temperatures, and increased frequency and severity of heavy rainfall worldwide are all effects of climate change

Durban, the largest city in KwaZulu-Natal province, has had a Climate Action Plan since 2020 that includes investing in flood management, like better drainage systems, which will be important for preventing future damages, climate experts told Al Jazeera. Still, it’s unclear if the plan is being implemented.

Guardian: Climate change is making floods worse - here's how, October 19, 2021.

More Rain Incoming

More rain is headed for South Africa's east coast this week. Although the expected rain isn’t projected to be as heavy, it could still cause damage. The soil is currently saturated, leaving it vulnerable to additional mudslides and flooding.

The initial rains caught the meteorological community by surprise. "Whilst impact-based warnings were indeed issued in a timely manner it appears that the exceptionally heavy rainfall exceeded even the expectations of the southern African meteorological community at large,” a statement from the weather service said.

Reuters: South Africans pick up the pieces after deadly floods, April 14, 2022.

ITV: Thousands feared dead after Cyclone Idai rips through southern Africa, March 19, 2019.