The seemingly imminent arrival of a Day Zero scenario and the resultant onset of water-shedding in Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality will almost certainly give rise to a humanitarian disaster for the 1.2 million people who call that region of our country their home.
While the severity and incidence of the drought which lies at the cause of this calamity will no doubt have a very strong causality attributable to human-induced climate change, it remains to be said that the ANC-led council in Nelson Mandela Bay has absolutely no excuse for failing to do everything in its power to mitigate against the prolonged drought they are experiencing. This is exactly what policymakers have been similarly called upon to do by the scientific community to avoid a climate catastrophe.
The IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C (2018) lays out in clear terms the very formidable challenge we are facing. The southern African region is warming at twice the global average and is projected to experience the impacts of climate change sooner and more acutely than many other parts of our planet.
The extreme weather attributable to this phenomenon is already causing damage on a scale that is difficult to fully comprehend, and one only needs to look to the recent episodes of severe flooding in KwaZulu-Natal to see the very real human impact, and how the costs of climate inaction vastly exceed the costs of taking action proactively.
Taking the sobering reality of the climate crisis we all now face into account — which is incredibly serious already in and of itself — and then transposing that into situations like Nelson Mandela Bay, it is surely evident to any sane or rational person to see that many of our existing municipal councils sadly cannot be entrusted to steer South Africa through the storm of the coming decades as we respond to the climate crisis. To add that level of variability to what is an already challenging situation would only serve as a threat multiplier.
Contrast that with the City of Cape Town — where it too had to face off with the very same kind of climate-induced Day Zero water crisis. It was the capacity of that local government to respond that made all the difference: it was prepared, based on the evidence before it, to make the difficult and unpopular decisions to forestall the impending disaster.
The City of Cape Town took decisive action to devise and execute plans to protect all 4.8 million of its residents. It consulted, and then listened to the advice of our experts, and responsibly raised the alarm so loudly that it was even reported on by the international press.
In Nelson Mandela Bay, this is absolutely not the case, where confusion and regression are the order of the day and the local government is simply not raising the alarm in a way which signals it is on the verge of a very serious humanitarian crisis.
Could the residents of Nelson Mandela Bay become the first major example of a South African population becoming internally displaced and then seeking a form of climate-induced refuge due to the paralysis of its failed local government?
While the City of Cape Town is certainly not infallible, and it faces many complex environmental challenges of its own, nobody can accuse it of failing to plan, or of failing to care. It is precisely for that reason alone that the new city council has established a brand new “Future Planning and Resilience Directorate” which now sits at the beating heart of its city government.
This directorate is run by some of the most dedicated public servants in the country, and it exists to protect the lives and livelihoods of its residents by engaging in long-term planning for their collective future — calling on the expertise of the best and brightest in our society, so that the city may act transversally and with the requisite foresight and wisdom, to proactively respond to climate change.
Dealing with the impacts of the climate crisis will require strong and decisive leadership, especially given the implications it presents to our national security. South Africa has absolutely no time to waste either — according to the IPCC we must reduce our present emissions by 45% by 2030 if we hope to have the best possible chance of limiting global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.
We must then reach net zero by 2050 at the latest, which the world’s leading scientists have determined will be enough to keep our planet in a climatic safe zone that will allow us to avoid a worst-case scenario for humankind.
This massive undertaking will require a whole-of-society approach to fully realise. We must all work together despite our many differences to achieve a just and equitable transition to a low-carbon economy for South Africa. Our future depends on it, but the climate finance required to facilitate this massive transition for our economy will almost certainly be out of reach for any corrupt kleptocratic local governments. It is no strange irony then that under ANC local governments the taps are now well and truly running dry, both literally and figuratively.
The time for denial and dithering on climate change must quickly end among our political class if we are to save the lives and livelihoods of our citizens and ensure a liveable future for our children and generations to come.
We should view with extreme prejudice any politician who claims to be of any particular standing in our society who is incapable of openly acknowledging the gravity of the climate crisis before us, despite the overwhelming evidence. There is simply no excuse, or frankly any room left, to tolerate that type of supreme ignorance any longer.
We must urgently get to work on adaptation and mitigation projects, but to do this we must install competent governments which are able to deliver on these things first. To allow the present status quo to prevail would be madness.
Unless of course we want to deliberately invite in the very real and ominous prospect of realising a truly dystopian future for our country, one in which we are all afflicted by many compounding and escalating environmental disasters, which are dominated by unimaginable human misery in an unassailable landscape of immense suffering. DM