Electrical Shock Deaths in South Africa’s Informal Settlements Reveal a Larger Issue
In South Africa’s Western Cape, a heavy downpour over the weekend resulted in a tragic incident where eight people, including four children, lost their lives due to electrical shock in the region’s impoverished townships.
The victims resided in informal settlements, where homes are often perilously connected to existing power lines to access electricity.
The children lost their lives in Klipfontein settlement, while the remaining four victims met their end in Driftsands, a nature reserve that has been a refuge for thousands since 2020.
Housing Crisis Amidst Population Boom
The rapid growth in population and urban expansion in South Africa have resulted in approximately 11% of its people living in informal dwellings, according to a 2021 survey conducted by Statistics South Africa.
The percentage is even higher in cities like Johannesburg (17.3%) and Cape Town (16.6%), and these figures have surged in the wake of the strict pandemic lockdown in 2020.
Informal settlements lack regular sanitation services, electricity, and running water, which further amplifies the vulnerability of the residents. During periods of intense rainfall, like in the Driftsands settlement, the area can be inundated with water that is knee-deep or even chest-deep that can last for weeks.
The Dilemma of Rapidly Growing Informal Settlements
Carl Pophaim, Cape Town’s Mayoral Committee Member for Human Settlements, shed light on the catastrophic effects of the flooding and heavy rains within these communities.
He also pointed out that during the covid-19 pandemic and related lockdowns, 186 new informal settlements sprung up, approximately 60% of which are classified as “high risk” due to their precarious location under power lines or in wetlands.
Despite the escalating number of informal settlements, the funds allocated to tackle this issue are dwindling. Pophaim revealed that the government aims to address the problem within the constraints of limited resources and land, including upgrading sites of newly established settlements.
Post-Storm Clean-Up Operations and Climate Change Indications
After the skies cleared, the Cape Town government embarked on “mopping up operations” across the city, particularly in informal settlements. The storm affected around 12,000 individuals.
The recent heavy rainfall, which led to a high ‘Orange Level 9’ warning by the South African Weather Service, is another signal of the intensification of extreme weather events due to climate change, according to local officials. In April last year, severe flooding resulted in over 400 deaths in South Africa.
Anton Bredell, Western Cape’s provincial minister of local government and development planning, stated that despite the effectiveness of their early warning and mitigation systems, they must continue investing in them due to the increasing indications of climate change.
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