Poor planning, corruption leave SA municipalities open to climate disaster

Several houses built along the banks of the Quarry Road in Durban were damaged by severe flooding.

  • Urban planning in most municipalities is not responding to the current climate crisis, according to Salga.
  • Informal settlements that arise in unsafe areas due to a lack of adequate urban planning also increase people’s vulnerability to climate change.
  • Corruption in procurement processes also compromises new infrastructure, putting its climate resilience at risk.

Poor planning, problems with historic infrastructure and corruption have left SA communities and municipalities unprepared for the devastation the climate crisis can wreak on the country, according to a South African Local Government Association (SALGA) official.

During a webinar on the impact of climate change and climate change on society, Salga’s consultant on climate change, Slindile Maphumulo, explained whether municipal infrastructure responds to climate change. The webinar was hosted by the Communication and Information System of the Government, Department of Forestry, Fisheries and Environment and Salga.

It comes from the recent floods in Kwa-Zulu Natal in which more than 400 people lost their lives and around 40,000 others were displaced. Heavy rains and floods have also damaged physical infrastructure such as bridges, roads, ports, power grids, internet and communication systems.

Maphumulo said that while climate change – linked to sea level rise and extreme weather events – has a real impact on people’s lives, poor infrastructure and planning have also made people more vulnerable to these impacts. “Bad planning is causing people great suffering,” said Maphumulo.

South Africa’s infrastructure was designed decades ago and did not consider the future climate, he explained. On the other hand, new infrastructures are also compromised by corruption in procurement processes that could result in the appointment of incompetent service providers – or those without sufficient experience – to provide the infrastructure, Maphumulo pointed out.

Maphumulo recalled how a bridge in Mpumalanga was swept away multiple times by floods because it was not designed to respond to the climate crisis.

“Communities or municipalities are simply not prepared to deal with climate-related threats,” said Maphumulo.

Urban planning in some municipalities does not take into account the impacts of climate change, he explained. Informal settlements sometimes arise in wetlands and flood lines, making these people vulnerable to the impacts of extreme weather events. The government exacerbates the problem by providing basic services to these settlements and inadvertently encourages people to live in these unsafe spaces, Maphumulo explained.

An assessment by Salga of the district development model plans indicates that most municipalities are not sensitive to the climate. Most districts have incomplete climate change response strategies, despite assistance provided by Salga and the DFFE, Maphumulo said.

However, SA’s eight metros are taking steps to prevent climate change by reducing emissions.

Five cities – Tshwane, Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni, eThekwini and Cape Town are part of the C40 network – a global network of mayors acting to respond to the climate crisis. Intergovernmental and interurban partnerships are invaluable in assisting the local government sector, particularly in preparing it to respond to climate change.

Salga has several units dedicated to supporting municipalities in mitigation and adaptation to climate change. These include a sustainability unit focusing on climate change, disasters and emergency services and an energy unit focusing on renewable energy and efficiency. Salga is also lobbying for funding from various partners to support municipal projects geared towards climate resilience. Salga is also working to incorporate climate change into municipal planning systems and is building capacity in climate change management, Maphumulo added.

Maphumulo explained that climate resilience education is essential for urban planners, emergency planners and all community planners to prepare for climate change.

Responding to climate change is not just the government’s responsibility, it requires input from stakeholders across society, he added. “Citizens and government must unite to respond to climate change”.