Durban, South Africa

by Andrea Palframan, Watershed Sentinel


In the wake of the opening session of COP 17 climate change summit in Durban, violent storms ripped through the city, foreshadowing the dire warnings that will be sounded at the international conference.

Flash floods and electrical outages resulted in six deaths and the accumulation of waist-deep water in lowland homes. Most affected were areas where populations are concentrated in informal slums. A spokesman for the city of Durban, Mthatheni Mabaso said the deaths were due to the collapse of poorly built houses.

What was catastrophic for the city’s poor majority was an inconvenience for the well-to-do: suburbanites suffered the late arrival of their maids, many of whom spent the early hours of the morning dragging sodden furnishings and clothing out into the sun to dry before heading to work.
In the morning, while world leaders pulled open their hotel room curtains, in informal settlements and townships throughout Durban shack dwellers piled belongings on their roofs as the waters receeded. The flooding provides a dramatic example of how people on different ends of the economic spectrum are impacted by climate change and as such could add some realism and urgency to the climate talks.

As though to emphasize the urgency with which the global community must act to stabilize CO2 emissions in order to mitigate more serious disaster, the storm provided an ominous backdrop to the negotiations.

For the 20,000 delegates from more than 190 countries who are gathered in Durban, this taste of extreme weather is a sobering reminder of why they’ve come, and what must be tackled in the days ahead.