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“The cumulative scientific evidence is unequivocal: Climate change is a threat to human well-being and planetary health. Any further delay in concerted anticipatory global action on adaptation and mitigation will miss a brief and rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a liveable and sustainable future for all.”

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 20221

“Climate-resilient development is enabled when governments, civil society and the private sector make inclusive development choices that prioritise risk reduction, equity and justice, and when decision-making processes, finance and actions are integrated across governance levels, sectors and timeframes. Climate-resilient development is facilitated by international cooperation and by governments at all levels working with communities, civil society, educational bodies, scientific and other institutions, media, investors and businesses; and by developing partnerships with traditionally marginalised groups, including women, youth, Indigenous Peoples, local communities and ethnic minorities. These partnerships are most effective when supported by enabling political leadership, institutions, resources, including finance, as well as climate services, information and decision support tools.”1 (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2022)

In recent days the Durban region has experienced yet another disaster that has had a devastating impact on communities, businesses and public services. As with many organisations across the region, TWIMS has also seen its staff and students affected by the floods. Whilst TWIMS’s premises only suffered from some relatively minor damage, many of the communities surrounding TWIMS, and those communities where its stakeholders live and work, have experienced problems such as destroyed roads, interruptions of water supply and damage to homes.

The scale of the flood damage has been such that many of the major freeways around the city, the areas around the port, service roads, water and electricity infrastructure and many residential areas will continue to experience considerable upheaval for many months to come. Some of the city’s largest businesses will take weeks to clean up their premises, reinstall infrastructure, re-stock their inventory and make repairs to equipment. One of the largest local employers has indicated that interruptions to production were costing at least R10 million a day with facility and equipment damage estimates running potentially into the hundreds of millions. Whilst not all businesses had their premises affected directly, many are experiencing service interruptions, high absenteeism as workers struggle to get to work on damaged roads or are needing to sort out the basics of water and accommodation at home. Interruptions in the port system – already negatively affected by very poor management by Transnet – has also been having a major aggravating effect on an already highly strained global supply chain system.

KZN Floods Containers

For many small and medium businesses that have increasingly had to carry the consequences of an unpredictable environment and often get little in the way of support, they are likely to have to work extra hard to recover. Across the country, the combined impacts of things like loadshedding, social unrest, high levels of crime and unresponsiveness from the government are a shared problem for most SMEs. However, the impact of floods are likely to place major additional pressures on these businesses in Durban. In the informal sector many businesses operating in Durban’s Warwick Avenue area also suffered major damages to their stock as drains overflowed and stormwater cascaded through their trading areas.

As one of the largest metros in South Africa, eThekwini has, for almost a decade, had the most dismal employment performance. Not only are there fewer employed people in eThekwini now than there were in 2015, but for most of the 2015-2021 period it has had the highest number of discouraged work-seekers of all the metros according to data from Stats SA’s QLFS. It is clear that the frequent warnings from civil society and business about the consequences of rising climate and governance uncertainty are going to need serious attention from decision-makers across society.

Those of us from the eThekwini Metro are all too familiar with the fact that the region has already suffered major social and economic blows from the 2021 riots and the prolonged effects of the pandemic and its related disruptions. For any city these would have served as a major body blow, but the damage to the region’s social and economic fabric has been made so much worse by decades of poor national economic performance, the squandering of public funds, the ongoing mismanagement of public utilities and corporations and provincial and metropolitan governments prone to serious governance and technical challenges. In a world of climate uncertainty, citizens and business need better performing and more accountable government.

TWIMS will work with its partner, the Gordon Institute of Business Science, and with other stakeholders in the wider manufacturing eco-system to encourage dialogue and the search for better ways of preparing for, and responding to, the increasingly challenging environment that is being faced.

Notes

(Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2022: 31 & 35 – from the report, Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability Summary for Policymakers, accessed from https://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar6/wg2/)