YAOUNDÈ, Cameroon — A series of floods in South Africa earlier this month left at least 443 people dead and 13,000 homes destroyed, prompting Catholic Church leaders to highlight the growing climate change crisis.
The floods have hit South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal and Duran provinces, which have also been hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic and the former has also been the scene of protests following the jailing of the former President Jacob Zuma for corruption.
Father Peter-John Pearson, Director of the Southern African Bishops Catholic Parliamentary Liaison Office, noted that “it has been a dreadful time for the province of KwaZulu-Natal.”
“It’s also an area driven by strong factionalism and politically motivated deaths. So levels of desperation are understandably high. There doesn’t seem to be any obvious silver lining anywhere. Four hundred and forty-three people died, 13 000 homes have been destroyed, 500 schools and personal property has been destroyed resulting in devastation on many levels,” he said. Node.
Archbishop Siegfried Mandla Jwara of Durban attributed the disaster to climate change and aging infrastructure.
“Last night in church I talked a lot about climate change because there are people who don’t understand very well, but now we can see its consequences,” Jwara said during his Easter homily.
Pearson said Node that the devastation that has hit the poor particularly hard highlights an overlooked reality in the fight against extreme weather – that protecting people is not just about tackling environmental problems; it is also about tackling social problems.
“As is always the case in these sad events, it is the poor who suffer the most. It is informal housing that is most vulnerable, poor and long neglected infrastructure such as drainage systems, good roads and conditions typical of underfunded areas that compound tragedy with tragedy,” he said. declared.
“Had the areas been properly serviced, infrastructure put in place or maintained, better housing provided for the homeless, some of the devastation would have been at least somewhat alleviated. Alongside and linked to the human contribution is the contribution of climate change and environmental degradation and this should serve as an additional warning to take the changes seriously and prioritize mitigation strategies. mitigation with special emphasis on the poor,” the priest continued.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has declared a state of national disaster due to flooding and announced that the government has $67 million to help those most affected.
However, Pearson fears the money is not getting to those who need it.
“The government has released huge sums of money to start reconstruction work. There is a deep suspicion that, as with COVID, money will be funneled into private pockets, bidding processes will be rigged and political interference will dilute the response,” he said. Node.
The president sought to allay those fears, noting that “there can be no room for corruption, mismanagement or fraud of any kind.”
“Learning from the experience of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are bringing together various stakeholders to be part of an oversight structure to ensure that all funds disbursed to respond to this disaster are properly accounted for and that the state gets what it pays for,” he said. mentioned.
Pearson praised the President’s precautionary measures against corruption, noting that “it is interesting that the President has funneled funds through an existing fund – the Solidarity Fund – overseen by the private sector as a way to avoid corruption “.
Even with promised government aid, private charity still has a role to play in helping those affected by the disaster.
Pearson said Node that the Catholic Church has “provided the basic necessities – through the Caritas structures – and that civil society has acted very quickly to meet material needs”.
But he warns that the rescue will take a long time.
“Even with the best will in the world, much of what needs to be restored, healed and rebuilt cannot be done physically or financially. He needs a long healing process, a balm to deal with the trauma. This is an area where churches will need to step up and provide psychosocial pastoral support,” he said. Node.