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30 November 2011

Disaster damage costs Kwazulu Natal dearly

A popular soccer field at Curries Fountain, close to the Durban CBD, is flooded. Picture: Puri Devjee

KwaZulu-Natal is being underfunded for disasters to the tune of hundreds of millions of rand by the national government, forcing the province to use its own money to fix property damaged by floods and storms, leaving departments with less money to spend on service delivery programmes.

This was heard at a finance portfolio committee meeting on Tuesday – attended by the national and provincial disaster management teams and the provincial and national treasuries – as news filtered through that a hailstorm had swept through Greytown on Monday afternoon, extensively damaging about 1 200 houses.

Two schools were damaged in the storm and teachers’ cars sustained damages.

Two people were also taken to hospital for injuries after being struck by hailstones.

This comes after five people died in heavy rain around the province on Sunday.

The finance committee heard that KZN was owed hundreds of millions for the flood disasters of 2009 and early 2011. The province had submitted a bill of R1.8 billion for 2009, including R1.1bn for repairs to damaged roads.

However, the province was only given half of what it had requested, forcing transport and other departments to use their own money for repairs.

Committee chairwoman Belinda Scott said: “There is a huge discrepancy between what we request and what we get, and we have to fix the roads ourselves.

“This means that huge chunks of KZN’s budget has gone to fix disaster damage in the past three years, as we are underfunded by the national government.”

ANC MPL Sipho Gcabashe urged the national government to address the issue of disasters. “Please look at our submissions and budget adequately for disasters,” he said.

Mohanuoa Mabidilala, head of the National Disaster Management Centre, said there was no indication of how the previous shortfalls would be addressed. A meeting of MECs responsible for disaster management had been scheduled to discuss the issue in a fortnight.

“Hopefully there would be recommendations on how these gaps will be closed,” she said.

Mabidilala said a process had been adopted according to which all provincial disaster management centres would submit contingency plans for seasonal hazards at the beginning of each season.

“These plans are consolidated into a national plan, with clear roles and responsibilities for stakeholders. This forms part of an institutional arrangement to ensure that response and recovery is effectively co-ordinated,” she said.

Greytown’s Umvoti council Speaker Ahmed Shaik said homes in the town had had their windows shattered, and roofs and ceilings destroyed during Monday’s hailstorm.

The municipality would provide tents for temporary housing and other aid.

Local chief Zakhele Sithole said the hailstones had been as big as a man’s fist. He said a child hit by the enormous stones had collapsed and was admitted to hospital.

Co-operative Governance Department spokesman Lennox Mabaso said the cost of the damage from Sunday’s storm would be in the millions.

A report detailing the cost and extent of the damage would be released this week.

Meanwhile, Pinetown Timber and Boards has allocated 20 tons of free timber to assist storm-affected communities build temporary shelters and to repair damaged homes.