Cabinet declares National State of Disaster in response to KZN devastation
The national government will lead the response to the floods that have devastated parts of KwaZulu-Natal and Eastern Cape, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced on Monday after the Cabinet declared a National State of Disaster.
The Cabinet has declared a National State of Disaster in response to the floods that devastated KwaZulu-Natal and left at least 443 people dead, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced in a televised address on Monday night.
“This is to ensure an effective response across all spheres of government to the extreme weather events and conditions that have occurred in several parts of the country,” said the President.
Ramaphosa said the national government would coordinate the “massive and urgent relief effort” required in the three-phased response, which he outlined as immediate humanitarian relief, stabilisation and recovery, and reconstruction and rebuilding.
“The lives, health and wellbeing of thousands of people are still at risk. The floods have caused great economic and social damage,” said Ramaphosa.
He said a National State of Disaster was necessary due to the extent of damage in KwaZulu-Natal and Eastern Cape, and the impact of the floods on the Port of Durban, a crucial component in the country’s economy.
“With the heavy rains and flooding in the Eastern Cape and indications from the South African Weather Service that the North West and Free State may also be affected by bad weather, it is clear that there are other areas of the country that need emergency intervention,” said Ramaphosa.
The country only recently emerged from a National State of Disaster that was introduced to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic and lasted for more than two years. Cooperative Governance Minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma is scheduled to provide a briefing on Tuesday outlining the new State of Disaster.
The National Disaster Management Centre last week declared KwaZulu-Natal a provincial disaster, but Ramaphosa said it was “inadequate to deal with the scale of the emergency and the required reconstruction and rehabilitation measures and responses”.
In KwaZulu-Natal, 443 people have died as a result of the floods. Search and rescue teams continue to search for 48 missing persons. According to the department of basic education, the death toll includes 57 pupils. At least one person in Eastern Cape is reported to have died.
An estimated 40,000 KwaZulu-Natal residents have been displaced as almost 4,000 homes were completely destroyed and more than 8,000 damaged. Many in the province have faced water and electricity cuts due to damage to local infrastructure.
According to reports, the damage to the province’s roads could cost R5.6-billion to repair. On Wednesday, Education Minister Angie Motshekga is due to visit several of the 630 schools damaged during the floods.
The SANDF has deployed 10,000 troops to KwaZulu-Natal. Ramaphosa said he had approved more personnel. The troops will help erect field accommodation and use water purification systems to provide fresh water to residents. The deployment includes medical staff, electricians and plumbers who will help restore electricity and water services.
As the death toll continues to rise, Premier Sihle Zikalala said he suspected the damage would surpass that of the 1987 floods, which caused hundreds of fatalities.
Last week Ramaphosa toured eThekwini and met some of the people affected by the floods. “They told us heartbreaking stories about children, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, grandparents and neighbours being swept away as their homes crumbled under the pressure of the floodwaters,” he said on Monday.
“There are few words of comfort that can ease the anguish and the torment of those people who have lost loved ones.”
The government is expected to spend billions on the recovery effort, raising concerns about corruption related to emergency procurement procedures, along the lines of what was seen during the coronavirus pandemic. After investigating R14.4-billion in Covid-19 spending, the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) flagged R7.8-billion in procurement contract irregularities.
Over the weekend, Zikalala said the province had learnt from the pandemic and that “no amount of corruption, maladministration or fraud will be tolerated in the province”.
Ramaphosa said, “A comprehensive assessment of the economic costs of these floods still has to be made, but it is clear to me that it will run into billions of rands with the rebuilding of infrastructure as well as loss of production.”
“There can be no room for corruption. There can be no room for mismanagement or fraud, of any sort. Learning from the experiences of the Covid-19 pandemic, we’re drawing together various stakeholders to be part of an oversight structure to ensure that all funds disbursed to respond to this disaster are properly accounted for and that the state receives value for money.”
The president said the various stakeholders will include the Auditor-General, business representatives, trade unions, religious leaders, community-based organisations and members of professional bodies representing engineers and accountants. The aim, he said, was to introduce accountability at the beginning of the procurement process rather than when money was already wasted or stolen.
The Solidarity Fund, which was established to manage donations related to the fight against Covid-19, has also agreed to manage private-sector donations for flood relief, with an initial contribution from the government. DM