The Human Rights Commission (HRC) appeared before the Ad hoc Joint Committee on Flood Disaster Relief and Recovery today to present its findings on the human impact of the recent floods in KwaZulu-Natal and Eastern Cape. The HRC reported their observation that there is still an acute lack of drinking water and sanitation, along with slow delivery of housing.

According to one HRC commissioner, Ms Philile Ntuli, in one case seven family members have to share a two-roomed unit that has no running drinking water, nor privacy for different genders. She also pointed out that the lack of security in these temporary shelters endangers women’s lives, in particular.

Ms Ntuli also reported that children’s rights to education were severely affected after 500 schools were damaged in the floods and some schools were closed temporarily. In addition, many pupils lost important documents and school items such as uniforms, textbooks, schools bags and stationary.

The bodies of some of those who died in the floods have still not been recovered, while others lie unclaimed in mortuaries. In addition, the lives of those with disabilities have been negatively impacted due to the lack of health care and adequate psycho-social support. Financially, Ms Ntuli said, it was projected in April 2022 that the relief fund needed an estimated R411 million to ease the burden of the floods on those affected.

During the interrogation session by members of the committee, Mr Timothy Brauteseth, stated that according to Section 24 of the Constitution everyone has a right to live in an environment that is not harmful to their wellbeing. Given that the disaster has caused a water and sanitation crisis that saw sewage running in the street of Ethekwini Municipality, Mr Brauteseth asked if the HRC had made any findings relating to progress on restoring services.

Another HRC commissioner Mr Jonas Sibanyoni, replied that they have not yet received a report in this regard, but the HRC is in the process of conducting its own investigation on the matter. 

Committee member Mr Mandla Rayi pointed out that there has been a lot of attention paid to the floods in KwaZulu-Natal, but little on the impacts in the Eastern Cape. For example, the people of Port St Johns have complained that nothing has been done in their area to alleviate their plight. The Co-Chairperson of the committee, Mr Cedric Frolick agreed with this sentiment and assured Mr Rayi that the committee has taken account of the concerns raised by him and the residents of Port St Johns. The matter requires urgent attention from all the government departments concerned, he said.

Committee member Ms S’Lindile Luthuli asked a question about the government’s real-time auditing of spending public funds in the affected areas. Ms Ntuli replied that indeed, the Auditor-General has been doing real time audits on the procurement of goods and services and on 31 August released a report to that effect.

Ms Luthuli then asked if government departments were coordinating their flood relief efforts and heard from Ms Ntuli that the work is not coordinated, but that the HRC is trying to make sure that this improves.

Another HRC commissioner, Mr Andrew Nissen, alleged that there is a lack political will to improve the plight of those affected. Co-chairperson of the committee Mr Jomo Nyambi agreed with this sentiment, saying that it corresponds with the committee’s own observations during its various oversight visit to KwaZulu-Natal. The committee has also criticised the lack of coordination between government departments in bringing relief to those affected by the floods.

Mr Frolick thanked the HRC for its insight and encouraged government departments to collaborate effectively to enhance the impact of their efforts. He also urged all those involved to consider the effects of climate change and to include planning for further climate-change-related events in their planning. “These are lessons that we have learnt in the wake of this disaster. We should learn from them and see how we can improve and avert further human strive in such situations.”

Abel Mputing

12 September 2022