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state of national disaster declared in South Africa

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The rains are finally starting to calm down. And South Africa is still trying to assess the damage caused by the recent floods in the Durban region (southeast of the country). Monday, April 18, President Cyril Ramaphosa drew up a new assessment during a televised address: there are now 443 dead and 48 people are still missing. Rescuers remain mobilized to help the most vulnerable in the province of KwaZulu-Natal, where 4,000 houses have been razed. President Ramaphosa estimates that 40,000 people are affected by the disaster, virtually without water for more than a week, electricity and food. About 10,000 soldiers have been deployed as reinforcements to search for survivors and to ensure the supply of essential products.

A whole devastated region

Since the weekend of April 9 and 10, the port city of Durban, on the east coast of South Africa, has been living under conditions comparable to those of a cyclone. An amount of precipitation, unmatched for more than sixty years, fell with devastating consequences. Landslides washed away or damaged thousands of homes, roads and bridges were completely cut off and more than 600 schools had to close.

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→ READ. South Africa bereaved by the deadliest floods in its history

The economic backlash could also be severe. The South African daily The Sowetan reported Friday, April 15, that petrol stations in KwaZulu-Natal province are emptying. The damage inflicted on the roads made the delivery of oil impossible. Several cases of looting of supermarkets or delivery trucks have also been reported. The local authorities are also worried about the health risks that could arise as a result of these floods. They asked to avoid as much as possible any contact with water that could potentially be contaminated with sewage or oil. The Sowetan reports that hospitals in KwaZulu-Natal are monitoring their patients for waterborne illnesses or diarrhoea.

A predictable disaster

During his speech, President Cyril Ramaphosa pledged to respond to this crisis by relocating displaced people. “We will focus on rebuilding destroyed areas, including repairing major infrastructure,” did he declare. Several experts have blamed the government for the ever-growing death toll. For several years, local authorities have been encouraging massive urban expansion in Durban without worrying too much about the potential risks.

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He recalls that the infrastructures of this city of 3.5 million inhabitants are totally unsuitable for coping with heavy rainfall. The drainage network, for example, is not sufficiently developed and no item in the last city budget was provided for infrastructure maintenance. However, floods in April 2019 in KwaZulu-Natal had already killed more than 70 people.

The National Institute of Meteorology assured AFP that “The precipitation will dissipate completely by Wednesday and until the end of next week”. Thanks to this moment of respite, the South African government released emergency aid of one billion rand (63 million euros). The authorities expect damages that would be counted in the hundreds of millions of euros.

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