How Climate Change Affects Us All

The Answer

©Leoine Joubert
Sihle Sokhela, local tour guide, surveys the early morning bustle.
The answer, in short, is this: everything and nothing. No single weather event constitutes evidence of climate change. Besides, the people affected by the floods were living well within the known flood lines so it was hardly surprising that they would eventually be hit, and whoever remains in these areas will continually be vulnerable to the naturally capricious rivers that break their banks every so many years in these parts. What is evident, though, is that the nature and ferocity of this kind of flood in the KwaZulu- Natal Midlands is likely to get worse, according to climate change predictions. A hotter world, due to rising greenhouse gases trapping more of the sun's energy, will mean greater evaporation.
A warmer atmosphere is also physiologically able to hold more water vapour. Together, these factors mean that the rainmaking mechanisms of our climate system will be magnified. The typical storms which this region experiences will come with greater strength and the clouds will hold more water. Floods with the severity of the 1987 event are expected to happen more frequently - and many of the people who were living within the flood line back then are still living there today.
The notion of environmental refugees is one that is being used increasingly in the media - people fleeing regional natural disasters such as floods, droughts or famines. And increasingly, there is the possibility of these being linked with climate change. And where resources such as arable land and water are spread too thin, conflict is inevitable.

Is Conflict Sparked by Climate Change?

©Leoine Joubert
Younger generations grow up in the shadow of their displaced parents.
"Is Darfur the first climate-change conflict?" asked the Christian Science Monitor (CSM) after a United Nations gathering in Kenya in November 2006 postulated that the hostilities being witnessed in Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya were being sparked by desertification.
"The conflict between herders and farmers in Sudan's Darfur region, where farm and grazing lands are being lost to desert, may be a harbinger of the future conflicts," wrote CSM journalist Scott Baldauf.
Indeed, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) foresees rising conflicts and environmental refugees fleeing the regional consequences of this very global form of pollution.
And while these conflicts are seldom sparked by a single event, a natural disaster can easily be the final spark to ignite existing political or social tensions.

No Chance

©Leoine Joubert
These houses along Sikhosana Road in Sobantu are in the one in a 50 year flood line. These residents refuse to move.
Meanwhile the ragamuffin community on the north bank of the Baynespruit River ekes out a living. Few have jobs, their water must be carried in on foot from a solitary tap more than an hour's round trip away and they have no land to grow their own vegetables. Summer rainfall is cutting away at the makeshift foundations of their houses like sugar corroding a tooth along the gum line. When the next bad flood comes, they will lose everything. Again.
"But luckily it isn't too expensive to rebuild," said one Baynespruit man laconically, in a deep, rumbling Zulu.
Life on this side of the river, the yin to Sobantu's relatively smart and built up yang, is a day-to-day affair. No water, no jobs, no electricity, no chance of escaping what nature inevitably holds in store. This is a huddle of political and economic refugees, pushed onto the margins by bad luck and circumstance. Above all, they are mostly forgotten, the jetsam of forces far greater than themselves.

By Leonie Joubert