Climate change is a global phenomenon whose impacts have emerged as one of the greatest challenges that humanity is facing today. Scientific evidence proves that climate change exacerbates the frequency of extreme weather events and natural disasters.
According to an article in Nature, unpredictable weather events such as drought and floods “accounted for about 90% of the year’s 820 recorded natural disasters” in 2011.
Droughts and floods becoming the norm
Indeed, droughts and severe floods are currently the most adverse effects of climate change.
Western Europe’s heat wave that claimed 35000 lives in 2003, and the severe floods that struck UK over the past weeks are some of the devastating impacts of climate change.
Similar extreme flood events have been experienced in the USA (Colorado in 2013), South America (Brazil, 2014 and 2013), and Asia (Philippines 2014). While the total cost of the damaged caused by the Australia (Queensland, 2013), and Africa (South Africa, 2014 and 2013).
Although these floods were of varying magnitudes, their aftermath is comparable. Both events have left a daunting economic burden to the affected parties.
Floods’ worth in economic terms
It has been estimated that the damage caused by these floods accounts to $ 2 billion (Colorado), $ 540 million (Brazil), $8 billion (Philippines), and $2.5 billion (Queensland).
Meanwhile, the details for the total economic loss caused by floods in various parts of South Africa recently in 2014 are lacking?
The total costs of damaged infrastructure in 2013 were worth $ 27.5 million (Limpopo), $ 1.4 million (Cape Town). The Kruger National Park, one of SA’s top tourists’ attractions, has lost assets worth $ 14 million to the floods.
The fruit producing industrial area of Ceres in the Western Cape lost millions of cartons of apples and pears with an estimated market value of $ 69.1 million.
Storm damage above R1 billion
In South Africa, like in many developing nations, these climate change disasters have significant impacts on the country’s economic growth. The severe storm that hit the KwaZulu-Natal coast in March 2007 has caused damage to coastal services and infrastructure valued above R1 billion.
The recent damage caused by floods in Laingsburg in the Western Cape is expected to cost millions of rand to repair. Such economic loss will certainly affect the other parts of the Western Cape, Gauteng, and Limpopo Province that have been struck by the floods in 2014.
Water resources losing integrity
On the other hand, the integrity of water resources has been affected by climate change. The ongoing rising water temperature deters the self-purification capacity of natural water systems by lowering the water oxygen level needed for regulation.
Locally the Hartbeespoort dam is a good example, where the dam is heavily infested by algal bloom because of increasing temperatures. The algae bloom clogs up water filters and pipes, as well as reducing the carrying capacity of pipelines and canals. This indeed hinders the dam’s water supplying capacity to communities.
Attempts to deal with this problem have been in place for some time. A multimillion rand Hartbeespoort Dam Remediation Project was launched in 2005 by the Department of Water Affairs.
Its main function is to:
- Remove and manage biomass accumulated in the dam
- Restructure and manage the food web by replenishing the basin fish population
Millions to resurrect Hartebeespoort
The total spending on the programme — R216.5m in 2011-12 — is to increase to R258.5m in 2013-14 and R383.3m in 2015-16, according to Water and Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa’s reply to a parliamentary question in November 2012.
However, we are yet to find a sustainable answer to the algal bloom infestation problem at Hartbeespoort Dam.
According to water expert, Bill Harding, “There is no published, objective evidence that provides any indication that anything done, using the millions, has improved the dam.”
For how long are we going to keep on increasing the budget without getting the desired results? The take home message here is that, if mitigation measures are not in place, climate change will exacerbate our current water woes.
Enter devastating droughts and conflicts
South Africa is one of the driest countries in the world, with variable rainfall patterns. Climate change has exacerbated low rainfall or drought in some parts of the country.
“Over the latter half of the 20th century, median annual rainfall has decreased markedly over the Limpopo, North-West and into the Northern Cape Provinces along the border of South Africa with Botswana”
– Water Research Commission Report No. 1430/1/05. Chapter 19, 326-338.
This has ignited conflicting demands for water amongst the agricultural communities, industries, and the needs of poor communities. Therefore, climate change is one of the greatest threats to SA’s ailing water resources.
Climate change is now a global phenomenon closely tied to social development, human survival, energy development, economic competitiveness, and technological innovation.
Right now the North-West Province of SA is experiencing severe droughts. Last year, the farming sector has lost about R 2 billion due to the drought.
According to a study by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, such climate change induced droughts will worsen in Southern Africa, and pose a threat to the food security of the Southern African countries
How much do vulnerable communities know?
However, climate change awareness and mitigation strategies are rarely filtered down to vulnerable communities. More efforts and resources are invested into reactionary measures such as disaster relief or the provision of humanitarian aid during the aftermath of climate change related disasters, such as floods and drought relief.
The recent climate change induced natural disasters have proved that we need some novel and pragmatic way of addressing the effects of climate change, some of which are irreversible to a certain extent.
Yet we keep moving deeper into trouble
If one looks at the continued focus by countries around the world on finding and exploiting more fossil fuels it seems as if a radical commitment to addressing climate change is yet to be made. This contradicts the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Change Agreement in which 141 countries had committed to curbing climate change – caused mainly by burning fossil fuels – to no more than another 2°C.
Climate change is now unavoidable as a global phenomenon. However, the impacts are more or less specific to local communities. Therefore, municipalities become crucial when it comes to climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies.
Fortunately, each South African municipality has a statutory obligation to incorporate environmental issues such as climate change into its Integrated Development Plan (IDP). However, rural municipalities, in particular, have fewer resources and human capacity to implement climate change mitigation and adaption measures.
It is now apparent that the extreme weather events that the world is currently facing are connected to climate change. The available scientific evidence suggests that the frequency of climate change induced extreme weather events is increasing, and poses a threat to humanity.
Therefore, it is necessary that we strictly implement the available adaptation and mitigation strategies and continue to come up with new innovative ways to reduce the adverse impacts of climate change. Next week in part 2 of this mini-series we explore constructive ways for our society to respond to climate change.
By Allen Tshautshau