Environment Minister Creecy defends weather warnings issued during KZN floods
Minister Barbara Creecy has outlined the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and Environment’s key priority areas for the 2022/2023 financial year — and responded to reports that weather warnings before the April floods in KwaZulu-Natal had been inadequate.
‘Recent media coverage has cast doubt on the [SA] Weather Service’s ability to predict severe weather events and protect our citizens from the impact of climate change,” said Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment Minister Barbara Creecy in a media briefing before her department’s 2022/23 budget speech to the National Assembly on Wednesday.
“These reports are untrue.”
Creecy said weather warnings were issued before the floods in KwaZulu-Natal (from 11-12 April) and were updated to Level 5 with eight warnings on 11 April.
Creecy said that despite revenue shortfalls, the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and Environment (DFFE) had ensured that SA’s forecasting ability was state of the art by allocating the South African Weather Service R100-million over three years to upgrade its infrastructure, starting with R15-million in 2021-2022.
Creecy said that during the KwaZulu-Natal floods, which led to a National State of Disaster and left more than 400 people dead, some in the media had criticised the government for not having adequate warning systems and climate adaptation measures in place.
eThekwini Executive Mayor Mxolisi Kaunda said at the time: “When the South African Weather Service alerted us to these heavy rains, we issued alerts to the public. We then put our disaster management teams on standby.”
Our Burning Planet previously reported that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC’s) sixth assessment report, Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability, emphasised that “existing early warning systems remain insufficient and the complexity of urban landforms makes accurate and detailed early warning difficult”.
Chris Trisos, a senior researcher at the African Climate and Development Initiative at the University of Cape Town and a lead author of the Africa chapter of the IPCC report, explained South Africa does have relatively good warning systems and forecasting in place.
“But that’s not always available to the people who need it,” said Trisos. “Like a smallholder rural farmer doesn’t always have the smartphone to get the Google alert that says there’s going to be a hailstorm.”
Creecy said that a key area the DFFE would be involved in this financial year was upgrading technology and radar systems. She said new technology could predict severe storms.
The department was also working on securing equipment that had been vandalised.
“In the past, it’s just been on the side of the road,” said Creecy. “We’re now moving it into police stations or into school premises.”
In her department’s budget vote, along with plans to upgrade weather warning system technology, Creecy laid out the DFFE’s priority areas for the 2022/2023 financial year, which included a focus on climate-induced disasters, seismic surveys and “just transition” financing.
Creecy also noted that climate change-induced disasters were “the most significant threat to people, economies and the natural world today”.
She said that women and children in rural areas were directly affected by climate change. “As the providers of food, fuel and water for their families, they have an important role to play in climate change policy development and management in South Africa.”
Creecy said that facing the urgency of the climate crisis was an imperative and attention had to be paid to those most vulnerable to its impacts.
Other key points the DFFE is focusing on during this financial year are:
Just transition financing
At the COP26 finance negotiations in 2021, the European Union, Germany, France, the UK and the US pledged R131-billion to support South Africa’s climate action goals in the form of grants, concessional loans and investment and risk-sharing instruments.
What exactly has happened to that money is not clear, but Creecy said a Presidential Climate Finance Task Team headed by Daniel Mminele was leading a technical team “to understand the full details of an offer”.
Creecy said the team would “mobilise $8.5-billion [R131-billion] over the next three to five years to support the implementation of our revised NDC [Nationally Determined Contribution] and to begin our just transition”.
She said the regulations for implementing and enforcing priority area air quality management plans would be published before the end of 2022 and a panel of experts would be appointed to advise her on the appeals.
“Given the complex nature of the issues raised in the appeals against the various decisions by the Department’s National Air Quality Officer… nominations have been invited for people to serve on a panel of experts.”
Creecy said the department intended to develop a research programme on seismic surveys and their impacts.
“This will begin this year and will analyse the footprint of seismic surveys that have already taken place in South Africa’s Ocean Exclusive Economic Zone.” DM/OBP