WITH the death toll in flood-ravaged KwaZulu-Natal now at 59 and hundreds of businesses shut down, including several major manufacturers, the province has been declared a disaster area.
President Cyril Ramaphosa visited today, Wednesday 13 April, to “offer support to affected communities and assess the response… to this critical situation”.
A statement from The Presidency said Ramaphosa was set to visit some of the worst hit areas, accompanied by KZN Premier Sihle Zikalala, Metro Mayor Mxolisi Kaunda and other officials will brief on the extent of damage and the response by government bodies.
They will be joined by Minister in the Presidency Mondli Gungubele, Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma and Minister of Police Bheki Cele.
Durban Chamber of Commerce and Industry CEO Palesa Phili said she feared the impact of the floods on the regional economy would be “devastating”, particularly as many businesses were still recovering from the last year’s unrest and COVID-19
Especially concerning, she said, was the effect on infrastructure and roads, including highways such as the M4 and N2.
“These road networks represent crucial business infrastructure, providing a linkage between business and industries in eThekwini. Any loss in any part of this economic infrastructure for an unspecified period will have a devastating impact on the manufacturing, travel and tourism, agriculture and many more, inevitably causing huge loss through operations and expenses in business.”
She said any further rainfall in greater Durban could lead to more flooding, as the ground is saturated.
“The magnitude and the frequency of these storms are proving to be a massive risk to the growth and development of the local economy, especially in an already constrained economic environment, with a major challenge being the inability to transport and deliver goods and services to various destinations due to flooding and traffic congestion.”
Phili said while the economic cost of the disaster is yet to be determined, it was sure to be significant, given that that critical infrastructure and numerous properties had been severely damaged, with South Durban, home to some of South Africa’s biggest manufactures, especially hard hit.
“Small businesses may not have adequate insurance to recover their losses, hence jeopardising their existence and sustainability going forward. If these losses are not recovered, over time the local economy can [expect to] suffer significantly.”
Phili urged government to “communicate and immediately action its plan for infrastructure maintenance and development that will improve drainage and traffic congestion issues”.
“The damage to property and loss of productivity, mainly due to ageing and inadequately maintained infrastructure, is disastrous and unsustainable and will have a cascading negative effect on economic activity. There needs to be a serious review of stormwater drainage systems especially related to our local and provincial road networks to ensure that rainwater can be easily drained away,” Phili said.
“If the matter is not resolved this will have a negative effect on the country’s overall GDP.”
Transnet reported that the heavy rains have damaged the road infrastructure leading into the Port of Durban, affecting access to the terminals.
“Shipping has been suspended until further notice as a result of environmental damage caused by the adverse weather, and vessels on berth are on standby,” it said in a statement.
The state-owned logistics company added that operations have been compromised at its terminals due to challenges experienced in handling wet cargo in Richards Bay. Rail lines in certain parts of the province are also operating at limited capacity.
Gavin Kelly, CEO of The Road Freight Association said today that there were already long queues of trucks along the N3. “The Marianhill plaza has a backlog of 10km all the way to Hammarsdale and the problem is that, according to the Road Traffic Inspectorate, local communities are targeting the trucks for looting.”
In addition, he said, access roads around the port have been damaged, container yards, truck depots and trucks themselves have been flooded and damaged. “The area is really a disaster at the moment.”
Kelly predicted that logistics operations would be severely impacted. “There will be delivery disruptions for goods being imported. The association has advised members to delay any departures towards Durban, and to find depots and safe parking areas along the way.”
Members have been asked, where possible, to assist one another to get any vehicles off the road and to secure holding areas until the logistics chain is up and running again. One silver lining is that the association does not predict any serious shortages in foodstuffs and fuel.
Mobile network operator MTN reported a major disruption to its services, with 500 sites in the province down, including Durban South, South Coast, Umlazi, Malagazi, Amanzimtoti, Ballito and Salt Rock.
“The flooding in the KZN region has caused power outages at many of our sites and while we have battery back-up at many of the sites, these batteries have been depleted,” said spokesperson Jacqui O’Sullivan.
“Our major challenge right now is gaining access to the sites with many roads being damaged or flooded, preventing us from refuelling our batteries or restoring power to the site.”
Standard Bank revealed that 34 of its branches and support facilities in KZN had been closed, with those in Durban city as well as those along the South Coast and North Coast being worst affected.