Coast KZN

25 Nov 2020

Ethekwini launches weather alert system in effort to save lives

Karen Singh (Mercury: IOL) Picture: GCIS- The damage caused by a flood in Amanzimtoti. A new Forecast Early Warning System will give the city a proactive approach when dealing with heavy rain and other flood-related disasters

Durban – Ethekwini Municipality’s new Forecast Early Warning System (FEWS) will give the city a proactive approach when dealing with heavy rain and other flood-related disasters. Mayor Mxolisi Kaunda launched FEWS last week at Inkosi Albert Luthuli International Convention Centre.

FEWS uses rain gauges, radar in catchment areas to monitor rain and seawater levels and more than 200 hot spots would be monitored. The system can also simulate flood scenarios, and look at environmental water quality, coastal erosion and wave behaviour to enable the city to better manage and mitigate the effects of flood-related disasters.

“We have no doubt that the implementation of this system is going to help us save lives and limit damage to infrastructure. The timely dissemination of these alerts could be a matter of life or death during an emergency,” he said.

Kaunda said as a result of climate change the municipality had experienced about 100 flood-related incidents which required disaster intervention since 2017.

“In April and December 2019, the city experienced heavy rainfall which claimed scores of lives and left a trail of destruction of private property and government infrastructure,” he said.

The city said the eThekwini (Durban) Climate Change Strategy had identified a positive rise in temperature and rainfall into the year 2065 and a 500 mm increase in rainfall between 2065 and 2100.

“This means more intense storms more frequently than expected. These are evident in the weather patterns seen in eThekwini municipality in the past decade,” said the city.

The mayor said the system allowed the city to proactively identify threats to areas such as informal settlements in advance by monitoring adjacent river levels and other stormwater systems that directly affect them.

“Notifications are triggered when the system produces warnings after certain levels are breached,” he said.

Agrometeorology lecturer Dr Alistair Clulow from the University of KwaZulu-Natal said it was good to see components which are commonly used separately, brought together in FEWS to save lives.

“I think that FEWS is a really useful initiative showing how we can use forecasts, measurement technology, communication systems together with information regarding previously identified vulnerable areas to make urban areas safer during heavy rainfall,” he said.

He believed that the system would make a difference because all the critical things that contribute to flooding had been identified. Clulow added that maintenance of the system was critical.

“Measurement and communication systems need constant maintenance. In addition, dissemination of a warning can be challenging function in unison to where some communities don’t have mobile phone comms,” he said.

In general, there is lots more to do in South Africa regarding early warning systems, he added. Clulow said one of the big challenges remained rapidly communicating the warning to communities and then providing something they can do to reduce the threat.

“Many people, for example, don’t have anywhere to go that is safe when a flood is imminent where they live.”

He added that one of the really big contributing factors to flooding was refuse and litter blocking drains.

“Stormwater is therefore unable to flow away and can result in flooded roads and homes,” said Clulow.