Packing gale-force winds of up to 95 km/h (60 mph) and dumping record-breaking heavy rains on the eastern regions of South Africa, Subtropical Depression Issa evolved from a low-pressure weather system off the south-east coast and reached its peak on Tuesday, 12 April.
In KwaZulu Natal (KZN) the floods have caused the confirmed deaths of 435 people with possibly as many as 200 people still missing as of today, 21 April 2022. Many were swept away as their houses or their vehicles were engulfed by flood waters. Others died when buildings collapsed in landslides. Search and recovery teams continue with the sad task of assisting in the search for the bodies of those still missing.
Due to the devastation caused by floods and landslides, 40 000 people are now homeless. Homes, hospitals, schools (over 600 schools have been affected) and infrastructure including roads, bridges, water and electricity supply structures have been damaged or destroyed. Durban harbour had to be closed for several days and many factories and businesses too have been unable to operate.
Thumbnail photos of KZN floods April 2022 copied from Google images
A national state of disaster was declared by President Cyril Ramphosa on 19 April, with regions of KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape being especially hard hit. These areas had already received above average rainfall this year, in part because of the effects of the the La Niña weather pattern, and so the ground was well saturated ahead of the storm.
As the President noted in his statement, on the 11th and 12th of April parts of KwaZulu-Natal received between 200 and 400 mm of rainfall in a 24 hour period. He said that “all parts of the province were affected by the rainfall, with the entire Ethekwini metro [including the city of Durban] and the districts of iLembe, Ugu, King Cetshwayo and uMgungundlovu [including the city of Pietermaritzburg] being most affected”. Referring to the Eastern Cape, he noted that there too heavy rain and flooding had been experienced “particularly in the districts of Alfred Nzo, Joe Gqabi and OR Tambo, where roads, bridges and houses have been extensively damaged, especially in the Port St Johns’ area”.
Thumbnail photos KZN floods April 2022 copied from Google images
Many news articles have pointed out several factors that have contributed to the devastation. These factors include overwhelmed or blocked drains especially in urban areas with high levels of run-off, poor maintenance of infrastructure, corruption at the level of government resulting in inadequate management and allocation of resources, and the topography of coastal areas including both steep hillsides and low-lying flood plains. Circumstances stemming from broader issues of inequality have also contributed to the severity of the losses. Poor people have been the most profoundly affected, particularly those in informal settlements living in relatively flimsy buildings (shacks) in vulnerable areas such as near rivers or on steep slopes. Although all these aspects are significant it must be noted that the rainfall has been exceptional including in the areas that have suffered previous floods in recent years.
Subtropical Depression Issa on April 12, 2022. Image from NASA (https://worldview.earthdata.nasa.gov/) uploaded to Wikimedia Commons. See: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Subtropical_Depression_Issa#/media/File:Issa_2022-04-12_1145Z.jpg
On 12 April 2022 at the peak of the storm, eight weather stations in KZN set new records for rainfall in one day. For example one weather station on the KZN south coast (at Margate situated near the off-shore eye of the storm) recorded 311 mm of rain, which is double the previous highest daily rainfall recorded in 1997. Much of the province was already saturated from significant rains in the two weeks preceding the storm, with Margate recording 162 mm of rain in the ten preceding days.
As reported in an online newspaper article in the Daily Maverick, Ethan van Dieman asked Professor Mark New, director at the University of Cape Town’s African Climate & Development Initiative (ACDI) what role climate change played in the flooding, if any, and he “explained that ‘heavy rainfall events have occurred many times in the past and will do so in the future. But global warming due to human influence on the climate makes the weather more energetic: on average it increases the amount of moisture in the atmosphere when rain-producing weather systems are present, and the warmer atmosphere also increases the energy of the convective systems [thunderstorms] producing rainfall. So more frequent and more intense rainfall is totally consistent with what we expect as global warming progresses’.”
Thumbnail photos KZN floods April 2022 copied from Google images
Many neighbourhoods and regions are still without water and electricity as supplies have been disrupted due to damage from the floods. Some communities have been cut off and stranded as roads and bridges have been washed away and some still await assistance. A large contingent from the army is being deployed and will be assisting national and provincial government structures with delivering basic supplies, restoring infrastructure and with erecting temporary accommodation for people who have been displaced. Non-governmental organizations are at work assisting with search and recovery and the supply of bottled water, meals, blankets, clothing and other necessities. For news articles suggesting organizations contributing to flood relief that need donations see here and here.
An uneasy dawn on 13 April during a brief lull in the rain on the morning after the peak of the storm, photographed from a window in our house. (Our neighbourhood has not been subjected to flooding.)
De Wet, Philip. 2022. KZN saw eight new rain records on Tuesday, with Margate doubling a high set 25 years ago. Business Insider South Africa, April 13. https://www.businessinsider.co.za/big-new-rainfall-records-in-kwazulu-natal-as-floods-continue-2022-4
Mafolo, Karabo. 2022. Here’s how you can help those affected by the KZN floods. Daily Maverick, April 14. https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2022-04-14-heres-how-you-can-help-those-affected-by-the-floods-in-kzn/
Pikoli, Zukiswa. 2022. Abahlali tries to clean up and rebuild after KZN flood deaths, destruction, heartache and trauma. Daily Maverick, April 20. https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2022-04-20-kzn-floods-abahlali-tries-to-rebuild-amid-death-destruction-trauma/
The Presidency. 2022. Statement by President Cyril Ramaphosa on the declaration of a National State of Disaster to respond to widespread flooding, Union Buildings, Tshwane. Republic of South Africa, April 19. https://www.thepresidency.gov.za/newsletters/statement-president-cyril-ramaphosa-declaration-national-state-disaster-respond-widespread-flooding%2C-union-buildings%2C-tshwane
Van Dieman, Ethan. 2022. Explainer: Why KZN was flooded and why it’s likely to happen again. Daily Maverick, Our Burning Planet, April 14. https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2022-04-14-explainer-why-kzn-was-flooded-and-why-its-likely-to-happen-again/
The Watchers. 2022. Subtropical Depression “Issa” forms near eastern South Africa, heavy rainfall claims at least 45 lives. The Watchers. April 12. https://watchers.news/2022/04/12/subtropical-depression-issa-south-africa-damage-fatalities-april-2022/
Watson, Amanda. 2022. KZN floods: Donations needed as recovery and rebuilding begins. Citizen, April 17. https://www.citizen.co.za/news/south-africa/3078429/kzn-floods-donations-needed-as-recovery-and-rebuilding-begins/
Wikipedia. 2022. 2022 KwaZulu-Natal Floods. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2022_KwaZulu-Natal_floods
Posted by Carol