KwaZulu-Natal floods leave hundreds dead and billions in damages

Homes, lives, businesses and state infrastructure has been destroyed over the past couple of years in KwaZulu-Natal as a result of the flooding incdients. Picture: GCIS

Homes, lives, businesses and state infrastructure has been destroyed over the past couple of years in KwaZulu-Natal as a result of the flooding incdients. Picture: GCIS

Published Jan 22, 2024


Within the space of just under two years, flooding in the KwaZulu-Natal claimed the lives of over 500 people and caused billions of rands in damages to property and state infrastructure.

In April 2022, KZN experienced a bout of heavy rains that caused severe flooding across the province.

The water levels in places like eThekwini rose so high that dozens of metal shipping containers from a depot in Durban, were floating on the freeway, along with cars.

Houses and complexes in northern areas like uMdloti, Blackburn informal settlement and Cornubia washed away as the ground beneath gave way to the raging waters.

During April, Durban and the south coast of KZN experienced more than 300 mm of rainfall.

The April flooding was considered to be the most catastrophic natural disaster yet recorded in KZN in terms of lives lost, homes and infrastructure damaged or destroyed and economic impact, according to research done by Wits University.

This was deduced after Professor Stefan Grab and his colleague, Professor David Nash, drew up a history of flooding KZN.

They went through archived articles held in old newspapers, colonial and government records, early missionary records, and meteorological records which became available from the 1850’s onwards.

According to the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta), 459 people died, while around 80 are missing.

More than 4,000 homes were destroyed, 40,000 people left homeless, and 45,000 people were temporarily left unemployed.

The cost of infrastructure and business losses amounted to an estimated US$2 billion, which equates to around R39 billion with current exchange rates.

The KZN schooling system, the largest public school system in the country, was also heavily impacted as over 270,000 were affected by the flood and over 600 schools damaged.

In 2023, the anxiety and fear which grew inside many of the thousands of people affected by the floods in 2022, had once again surfaced when the South African Weather Service (Saws) issued flood warnings.

Since mid-December 2023, Durban and other parts of the province, including northern and western regions, experienced consistent rain which poured over into the new year.

The heavy rains cascaded into the new year as well.

In the uThukela District, the district which Ladysmith falls under, 26 people died as a result of flooding during the festive period, according to Cogta.

To date, the death toll as a result of the recent flooding incidents stands at 58.

Residents told GroundUp they have been flooded numerous times since September 2023.

On Christmas day, over 1,400 homes were destroyed by the flood in Ladysmith.

Numerous people have also been swept away by overflowing rivers and low lying bridges, emergency services reported.

Authorities are still busy with mop-up and search and rescue operations.

"The persistent rains have unfortunately caused delays in our repair efforts and assessment, as our teams are still on the ground. However, we appreciate the efforts made by municipalities such as eThekwini Metro and here in Uthukela which has already initiated repairs using their available budget.

“We have assessed significant damages in areas like KwaDukuza, Indwedwe, and eThekwini, among others. As you drive along, you could see the devastation caused by the rains. We are also aware that the storm is not over yet, which is also worrying,” Cogta Minister Thembi Nkadimeng said.

According to Dr Andries Kruger from Saws, weather patterns observed over the last century have shown rainfall has become more intense, giving justification to the phenomenon of climate change.

But climate change alone cannot take the blame, as land degradation, alien vegetation and arbitrary settlements alongside rivers and poor land-use significantly contributes to flooding, infrastructure damage and associated loss of life.

“It has been shown by research conducted in SAWS with rainfall records over the last century that specifically daily rainfall has become more intense.

“This is especially the case for the eastern parts of the country, where the likelihood of unprecedented extreme rainfall events have become increasingly likely to occur,” Kruger said.