The seemingly imminent arrival of a zero-day scenario and the resulting onset of water loss in the municipality of Nelson Mandela Bay will almost certainly result in a humanitarian catastrophe for the 1.2 million people who call this region of our country.
While the severity and incidence of the drought which is at the root of this calamity will undoubtedly have a very strong causality attributable to human-induced climate change, it remains to be said that the ANC-led council Nelson Mandela Bay has absolutely no excuse for not doing everything in its power to alleviate the prolonged drought they are experiencing. This is exactly what policy makers have been similarly called upon by the scientific community to avert climate catastrophe.
The IPCC Special file on global warming of 1.5°C (2018) lays out in stark terms the very daunting challenge we face. The Southern African region is warming twice as much as the global average and is expected to experience the effects of climate change sooner and more intensely than many other parts of our planet.
The extreme weather conditions attributable to this phenomenon are already causing damage on a scale that is difficult to comprehend, and one need only look to recent episodes of severe flooding in KwaZulu-Natal to see the very real human impact, and how the costs of climate inaction far outweigh the costs of proactive action.
Taking into account the sad reality of the climate crisis we are all facing now – which is already incredibly serious in itself – and then transposing it into situations like Nelson Mandela Bay, it is surely obvious to any sane or rational person to see that many of our existing city councils unfortunately cannot be tasked with leading South Africa through the storm of the next few decades as we respond to the climate crisis. Adding this level of variability to an already difficult situation would only multiply the threats.
Contrast that with the city of Cape Town – where it also faced the same kind of climate-induced Day Zero water crisis. It was the responsiveness of this local government that made all the difference: it was ready, based on the evidence at its disposal, to make the difficult and unpopular decisions to prevent the impending disaster.
Cape Town has taken decisive action to design and execute plans to protect its 4.8 million residents. He consulted, then listened to the advice of our experts, and responsibly sounded the alarm so loudly that it was even picked up by the international press.
In Nelson Mandela Bay this is definitely not the case, where confusion and regression are the order of the day and the local government simply does not sound the alarm in a way that signals that it is on the brink of a very serious humanitarian crisis.
Could the people of Nelson Mandela Bay become the first major example of a South African population being internally displaced and then seeking some form of climate-induced refuge due to the crippling of its failing local government? ?
While Cape Town is certainly not foolproof and faces many complex environmental challenges, no one can accuse it of not planning or not caring. It is precisely for this reason alone that the new city council has set up a brand new “Directorate of Future Planning and Resilience” which now sits at the beating heart of its city government.
This directorate is led by some of the nation’s most dedicated public servants, and it exists to protect the lives and livelihoods of its residents by engaging in long-term planning for their collective future – drawing on the expertise of the best and brightest in our society, so that the city can act cross-cuttingly and with the necessary foresight and wisdom to respond proactively to climate change.
Addressing the impacts of the climate crisis will require strong and decisive leadership, especially given the implications it has for our national security. South Africa has absolutely no time to waste either – according to the IPCC, we need to cut our current 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 then need to reach net zero by 2050 at the latest, which the world’s leading scientists believe will be enough to keep our planet in a safe climate zone that will allow us to avoid the worst-case scenario for humanity.
This massive undertaking will require a whole-of-society approach to be fully realized. We must all work together despite our many differences to achieve a just and fair transition to a low carbon economy for South Africa. Our future depends on it, but the climate finance needed to facilitate this massive transition of our economy will almost certainly be beyond the reach of any corrupt kleptocratic local government. So it’s no strange irony that under local ANC governments the taps are indeed running dry, both literally and figuratively.
The time of climate change denial and dithering must quickly end within our political class if we are to save the lives and livelihoods of our citizens and ensure a livable future for our children and generations to come.
We should view with extreme prejudice any politician who claims to have a special position in our society and who is unable to openly acknowledge the gravity of the climate crisis before us, despite the overwhelming evidence. There is simply no longer any excuse, or frankly any room, to tolerate this type of supreme ignorance any longer.
We urgently need to get to work on adaptation and mitigation projects, but to do that, we first need to put in place capable governments that are able to deliver these things. To allow the current status quo to prevail would be madness.
Unless of course we deliberately want to invite in the very real and ominous prospect of realizing a truly dystopian future for our country, a future in which we are all afflicted by many deepening and worsening environmental disasters, which are dominated by unimaginable human misery in an unassailable landscape of immense suffering. DM