Devastating Floods – Difficult Questions

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Devastating Floods – Difficult Questions

By Annemarie Paulin-Campbell


It is impossible to comprehend the immensity of the human impact of the recent floods in Kwa-Zulu Natal. 448 have died, many are still missing, and over 40000 are displaced. The numbers are horrifying and each one of those people and their families, friends and communities have their own personal story of trauma and grief. People responding onsite have been shaken by the devastating sense of hopelessness that many are expressing. 

In these crises it is always the poorest who suffer most. Around 25% of the affected population live in informal settlements.  Thousands of RDP houses and shacks have been destroyed or washed away leaving people with nothing. Many homes collapsed and people trapped inside suffered severe injuries or death.  

Water infrastructure is so badly damaged that experts say it may be a month at best before running water supplies can be restored in some areas. 84 health facilities have been impacted upon. 124 schools are severely damaged. It is going to be a very difficult journey of recovery. Poor, and aging urban infrastructure is a significant contributing factor to the extent of the damage.

In this devastating situation, it is tragic that there is little confidence, given its track record, that government will actually manage disaster relief funds without corruption. Money that should have been used to improve and renew infrastructure in South Africa, and to provide employment opportunities, has been lost to corruption. Faith in South Africa’s leadership is at an all time low. Premier Sihle Zikalala had a water tanker delivering water at his home while communities most affected haven’t seen a water tanker and have no access to water. This is the kind of appalling leadership the Province has. 

For many of us the best way that we may be able to help is to make donations to NGO’s and church organisations, ones with a proven track record of getting what is needed to the communities destroyed by the floods. Could church communities reach out to a parish in one of the affected communities and see what skills or resources are needed and how they could assist?

We must also grapple with some difficult questions: What are we doing individually and as communities with respect to climate change and global warming which scientists are repeatedly saying is the cause of the increasing extreme weather events?

Why are so many people still living in such dire poverty, in shacks or poorly built houses that cannot withstand flooding and on land that is too close to rivers? 

How do we hold our leadership accountable?

How do we make changes in our society so that those who have the least resources and are most vulnerable do not bear the brunt of natural and climate change disasters?

In this season of Easter may we be ministers of Christ’s consolation to those who are grieving – called and sent to do whatever we can for those whose lives have been shattered in this disaster. But, we must ask the difficult questions of our leadership, ourselves and our communities. If we don’t engage and face up to the plethora of problems, what devastation might we face next? 

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