‘We are shouting as loudly as we can. It is a serious, present and clear threat – but we can substantially reduce the risk,” said Andrew Muir, the author of a new scenario on the impact of climate change in Nelson Mandela Bay, the Eastern Cape’s biggest metro.
“It is important to move forward with hope and implement the actions which are within our control.”
Muir was a well-known conservationist from South Africa, having been recognized by the World Economic Forum in 2012 for his work in social enterprise. He is the CEO of Wilderness Foundation Africa as well as Wilderness Foundation Global. He was also the president of the Nelson Mandela Bay Business Chamber.
Loyiso Dotwana, president of the chamber, explained why they asked Muir for an assessment of the effects of climate change. He said that they believed that the effect of climate change would be similar to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Business needs to take a more proactive approach. We need to change fast,” Dotwana said. “Given the enormity of the impact, it should be a province-wide initiative.”
Muir stated that he wasn’t a climate expert, but had access to experts in the creation of the latest scenario for the metro. He is an advisor to the World Economic Forum and serves as a member of some of its task groups.
The Nelson Mandela Bay metro, combining the city of Gqeberha and the towns Uitenhage and Despatch, is the province’s biggest metro and home to two ports – Port Elizabeth harbour and the deep-sea port of Ngqura.
The latest ReportThe Eastern Cape Socio-Economic Consultative Council published the following information: The provincial economy contracted 6.9% in the third quarter.
The Eastern Cape currently has a 47.4% unemployment rate. Nelson Mandela Bay saw an increase of unemployment in the third quarter of 2021, going from 39.8% up to 40.7%.
The N2 highway runs parallel to the sea in Nelson Mandela Bay. Muir stated that the severity of storm surges could cause the road to have its position changed.
He said the best-case scenario for the metro was for global warming of 1.5℃ by 2040, given the current trajectory, but globally the increase in temperature is currently at 1.1℃. He said that this could rise to 1.1 by 2040, and that, due to its geography, sub-Saharan Africa would see a greater increase in temperature.
“I have based my analysis on a best-case scenario,” Muir said. “The worst-case scenario is just depressing,” he said.
He said that global warming will lead to more extreme droughts and heat and more frequent and intense weather events. The past nine years have been the warmest in history.
Muir stated that Nelson Mandela Bay was one of the most racially segregated metropolises in the country and would have a negative impact on the poorer communities.
“Water will become increasingly unavailable,” he warned.
“Our biggest threat to the coastal areas will come from the ocean.” This, he added, is a threat that carries through to the nearby towns along the Eastern Cape coast.
“Our biggest storm surges are getting worse every year,” Muir said, adding that a rise of a few millimeters in the ocean will quickly become a few feet during a storm surge.
Nelson Mandela Bay, he explained that he is facing a special challenge. Although it is not the largest metropolis, it is second in terms urban sprawl.
“A massive environmental event (like a storm or floods) will cause extensive and widespread damage. There won’t be any funds to repair infrastructure that is constantly damaged by extreme events. This will have a compound effect and is a cause of very serious concern.”
He predicts that residents will have to wait in line for water from tankers when tap water becomes more scarce. “We are already seeing it in India.”
Muir mentioned recent storm damage in Addo, Eastern Cape. The municipality is currently in dire need of repairs.
“We don’t want to hear this, but we must be forewarned.”
He stated that acid buildup in the ocean from temperature increases will cause an increase in red tide (a harmful algal bloom that has a serious impact upon marine life). This will in turn affect the metro’s fishing industry and the dolphins, whales and penguins that are major tourist attractions in Nelson Mandela Bay.
Muir also stated that Cape Town (and Durban) have both made plans to mitigate against climate changes. “We need one,” he said, stressing the need for a multistakeholder task team to address the imminent crisis.
“Planning will be key,” he said. For example, spatial planning must account for the dangers posed by global warming. “We know where the flooding is going to be.”
Muir stated that the creation of soft buffers is crucial.
“Durban has done this perfectly,” he said, adding that the rehabilitation of existing dunes was a “cheap and easy” way to start the fightback against climate change and can provide employment to a lot of people.
Nelson Mandela Bay, specifically, said that the Baakens River could be used to control flooding but is currently clogged with vegetation.
He stated that the Baakens River valley also serves as a natural carbon sink, and would help protect the town’s heat.
He mentioned parks and gardens that are located in Florida, the United States, which will act as natural drainage zones in case of flooding. “And it is pretty,” Muir added.
He also stressed that the metro will be less susceptible to extreme weather events if it has more renewable energy.
“The secret is self-reliance.”
Following a series of severe electricity outages, likely caused by vandalism or sabotage, the Business Chamber adopted a program in which businesses took responsibility for protecting substations within their respective areas. Muir suggested that to address the possible ravages caused by severe weather events, businesses should also adopt roads or water pipelines.
He stated that the municipal regulations should include rainwater harvesting. “A lot of water is going to fall. We must be able to capture it.”
He added that boreholes must also be monitored and controlled to avoid fresh water aquifers under the metro being contaminated with salt water.
“This would cause permanent damage. There is no way to reverse it.”
Despite some rainfall in December saving the metro from Day Zero, the water situation is still very critical.
Garth Sampson, South African Weather Service, stated that they don’t expect any significant rain and that the region was headed for a record-breaking dry January.
He stated that money was available to address climate change, but that the metro needs to ask for it.t, and,Given the level of threat, civil society should also lobby at every level.
“This is a call to arms for action,” he said.
Muir stated that the United Nations flagged the Eastern Cape as a particularly suitable area for mass restoration and rehabilitation projects. This was partly due to Spekboom, subtropical valley thicket and carbon sequestration.
“Many of these climate change initiatives could potentially be paid for by the rest of the world,” he said, “but we need the politicians to move with speed and adopt the appropriate plans which will attract funding.”
Muir said while their forecast is that the situation will “get really bad” by 2040, the 18 years until then will see an increase in the number of serious weather events.
A ReportGarret Barnwell, a clinical psychologist, wrote the report for the Centre for Environmental Rights. It also highlighted the profound impact climate change will have upon mental health.
Barnwell states that this will result in an increasing burden of diseases, intensifying water security, worsening sunlight and heat exposures, growing financial insecurity as well as widening inequalities, increased interpersonal violence, rising food insecurity, and worsening natural disasters.
“The youth, children, women, those living close to power plants and rural communities of this and future generations, are most at risk as they shoulder the burdens of global climate.
“Furthermore, more than half of the total population of South Africa is living in poverty, and this socioeconomic vulnerability makes it extraordinarily difficult for the majority of South Africans to adapt to the advancing climate shocks.
“The same social conditions that make individuals and communities more vulnerable to climate change also place them at higher risk of psychological adversities,” Barnwell said.
“Children and future generations are particularly vulnerable. Affected children will likely have additional challenges at school such as impaired concentration or emotional overwhelm. Children can turn these feelings inwards and experience profound sadness, loss, helplessness or hopelessness, or they can turn these feelings outwards in destructive ways… Some may engage in destructive behaviour or try to self-soothe by resorting to overmedicating or drinking excessive alcohol.
“… natural disasters or socioeconomic losses can cause considerable psychological distress… increases the risk of depressive experiences, sadness, anger, helplessness, hopelessness, diminished interest and pleasure from life, disturbed sleep, fatigue or loss of energy and feelings of worthlessness, recurring thoughts of death and suicide attempts.
“One of the most significant risks of the climate crisis is people killing themselves because they feel overwhelmed by distress and financial pressures… that there is no hope, and their sense of support, community and the world has transformed for the worse.” DM/MC