Disasters like KZN floods could double in frequency due to climate change – study

Over 400 people lost their lives in the flood in Kwa Zulu Natal.

Over 400 people lost their lives in the flood in Kwa Zulu Natal.

  • The rains that caused flooding in KwaZulu-Natal in April were between 4% and 8% times more intense due to climate change.
  • The flood, which killed more than 400 people, is likely to occur every 20 years, more frequently than without man-made global warming.
  • South Africa needs to improve responses to early warning systems, says a climate scientist.

According to a study, the rains in KwaZulu-Natal that resulted in deadly floods in April were exacerbated by climate change.

The World Weather Attribution (WWA) initiative on Friday released a study linking climate change to the intensity of floods that have killed more than 400 people and damaged key infrastructure in the region. WWA analyzes the possible influence of climate change on extreme weather events. More than 15 climate scientists from France, the Netherlands, South Africa, the UK and the US were involved in the KwaZulu-Natal flood study.

According to Dr Friederike Otto, senior lecturer in climate science at Grantham Institute, Imperial College London, who also worked on the study, rainfall was exceptionally high for specific regions – more than 350mm in two days.

The study looked at rainfall in the affected area on the east coast of South Africa, which includes parts of KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape. The South African Meteorological Service previously noted that rainfall was similar to that experienced during tropical cyclones.

The study of heavy rainfall on the east coast of South Africa over two days in April.

World weather attribution provided

The study showed that human-caused climate change (driven by greenhouse gas emissions) would double the frequency of such an extreme weather event or 20-year event, explained Izidine Pinto, a climate scientist at the university. of Cape Town and technical advisor to the Red Cross Climate Center.

“The result shows that the likelihood of this event doubled due to human-induced climate change. The intensity of this event has increased between 4% and 8%,” he explained.

For a specific weather station – Mount Edgecombe – its data showed that such precipitation is a 200-year event.

The heavy rain event reflects how human-caused climate change works, the WWA noted in a statement. Greenhouse gas emissions contribute to rising temperatures, which means the atmosphere contains more water and risks more abundant rainfall.

READ | ANALYSIS | With climate change causing adverse weather conditions, KZN flooding could be just the beginning

According to Professor Tafadzwanashe Mabhaudi of the University of KwaZulu-Natal, KwaZulu-Natal has the highest flood risk of any province in South Africa. Several parts of KwaZulu-Natal are likely to experience more frequent and severe storms and floods due to climate change, Mabhaudi explained.

“The floods suffered in April 2022 are a strong reminder of the province’s flood risk profile and vulnerability,” he added. KwaZulu-Natal is also at risk of landslides due to its geography and other characteristics of its terrain formation. “Communities are routinely caught unprepared by floods, leading to significant loss of life and property,” Mabhaudi said.

Early warning of floods and storms would help increase preparedness of farmers and local disaster management officials, he said.

READ | Poor planning, corruption leave SA municipalities open to climate disaster

Professor Francois Engelbrecht, director of the Global Change Institute at the University of the Witwatersrand, similarly said the country needs to improve its responses to such extreme events. “In the short term, the country needs to learn how to evacuate thousands or tens of thousands of people off the path of damage in a period of one to three days, to provide them with safe accommodation, even if only temporarily, using warning systems. early”.

In the long term, vulnerable communities must be cared for with safer land to live on and must be given “adequate housing” to withstand the impact of extreme weather events.

“As long as people live along the steep hills of KwaZulu-Natal, they will be prone to landslides occurring during periods of heavy rain and as long as people live below flood lines of rivers that cross the river in the Durban area, the harsh reality is that more lives will be lost in the future, especially in the context of climate change intensifying storm systems in southern eastern Africa. “

– François Engelbrecht

Commenting on the early warning systems in place, Vanetia Phakula, a meteorologist at SAWS, explained that on April 8 warnings of a strong storm were issued to the public, before the actual event, which took place between 11 and 12. April April. Closer to the hour, the SAWS increased its alert level from 5 to 9 to indicate the increasing severity of the event, which would include floods and mudslides.

But based on the alert responses, Phakula said it’s clear that more education about alerts is needed to improve people’s responses.

During a recent webinar, South African Local Government Association climate change consultant Slindile Maphumulo highlighted that poor urban planning in municipalities increases people’s vulnerability to climate change. The assessment of the Salga district development model plans shows that most municipalities are not sensitive to the climate.