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We Need To Be Better Prepared For Extreme Weather

The Joburg storms and how to deal with them in the future

22/11/2016 05:57 SAST | Updated 22/11/2016 20:24 SAST
Zoonar RF
South Africa is in the middle of a crippling drought - and yet we have flooding each year.

Biological life is shaped by weather. Humans live in nature and mostly it is the cold, the warm, the rain, the wind, or the soothing breeze that determines our mood and quest for actualising our full potential in the world. And, Oh, yes, when we wake up we wonder the day's temperature - will it be warm, will it be cold and what does one wear.

It is not only urbanites that shuffle the web for a good weather report, farmers need it to plan their season of harvest; airlines need to plan schedules and travel routes. A good sports event is as good as the weather would allow and so the list of things that we do so much depends on our relation to the weather. For centuries we have relied on mostly predictable weather patterns and temperature to attain a semblance of good and manageable life on earth.

Everything thing we design to make the planet habitable for ourselves has been based on a certain degree of regularity and predictable patterns in the weather from the houses we built, the kind of tar we use on our roads, to the bridges and many things we have had to engineer to advance human habitation but also protect life as much as possible from the occasional turbulent rage of nature.

But we enter the world of unpredictability and uncertainty and these require knew capacities of knowledge, forewarning and organization.

Modern humans, with two hundred years of dirty industrialism, are as much a culprit in making the weather as the weather makes us. Even, today's doubters of climate change, conducted yesteryear the best calibrated research in the deep oceans on the relation between increased Green House Gases and temperature rise.

I am referring to that censored scientific research that Exxon did not want us to know about in the 1970s. Even their scientist established what is now the dominant thesis that global warming is a result of increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere despite the fact that the fossil fuel industry spends a great deal of time and money to cast doubts on the veracity of the science..

South Africa has suffered the most crippling drought for many decades due to the so called El Nino effect. By all standards this El Nino was in the remit of one of the most extreme. A week or so ago South Africans prayed for a break in the drought.

It seems like the prayers and calls of the sangomas were answered. The heavens broke loose and the downpour unleashed flash-floods. The havoc it wrought in certain parts of Gauteng and other provinces caused damage to property, infrastructure and a few people succumbed to the floods. It caught everybody by surprise.

Climate change may seem to be an event that only happens in Paris where hobnobbing stalwarts each year gather and drag themselves through painful negotiations as they try to save the world from the use of more fossil fuels.

Global collective action is slow and laborious in the making even though the Paris Agreement (PA) being debated in Marrakesh, at the moment, may not yield fast enough the change that is necessary to shift us away from beyond a one degree rise in temperature.

Some suggest that global negotiations may be too late and too little. We may have to live with a warming planet and extreme weather for some time to come. Perhaps forever.

Extreme weather is becoming a norm and the World Meteorological Organization is starting to build a good global picture of these weather patterns around the world.

Extreme weather manifests in the form of high intensity, short spurts and frequently either in the form of heat waves, floods, rain, hurricanes and other weather patterns.

Extreme weather manifests in the form of high intensity, short spurts and frequently either in the form of heat waves, floods, rain, hurricanes and other weather patterns. Our knowledge of temperature rise, climate change and extreme weather is still developing but the increased frequency of events is being seen as the development of a new normal.

Extreme weather is not only a cost in terms of financial damage but they disrupt the normal flow of life, livelihoods and ecosystems. The Joburg storms showed the immediacy of vulnerability for both rich and poor but poor people tend to be affected most as we can see with those living on the banks of the Jukskei river.

Changes in weather require new strategies of coping. Global emissions are not going to come down overnight and many countries will have to cope with frequent bursts of extreme weather. The immediate future it would seem is about adaptation rather than sole reliance on the world coming to its senses that we need to get off fossil fuels as fast as possible.

Many local authorities are aware of climate change issues and have policies that demonstrate awareness and keenness to tackle the challenges. The challenge is to translate this understanding into practical solutions and actions.

Many local authorities are aware of climate change issues and have policies that demonstrate awareness and keenness to tackle the challenges. The challenge is to translate this understanding into practical solutions and actions. These actions will require using limited resources to adapt infrastructure and emergency services to changing weather patterns.

The challenge is to develop climate vulnerability maps that are accurate in terms of geographic location of impacts, intensity and frequency. We are still far from that as the more accurate these maps are the better it is to prioritise limited resources to ensure the appropriate adaptive interventions.

These maps should include the most vulnerable communities, inform rescue plans and should be worked into Integrated Develop Plans (IDPs) that municipalities have to develop in order to ensure appropriate budgetary allocations. Municipalities should also tap into local knowledge from farmers, communities and others to get a better understanding of how shifts in weather is being experienced on the ground and impacting on the lives of ordinary people.

Better preparedness saves lives, economy and money.

Bad weather is to come and stay but bad weather is no excuse for bad planning.