The poor are hardest hit by government's failures

28 April 2019 - 00:00 By SUNDAY TIMES

More than 85 people died in KwaZulu-Natal following relentless rain that has battered the province since the eve of Good Friday. Thousands more have been left homeless and stripped of their possessions, in a chilling reminder that a quarter of a century into our democracy, it is still our poorest citizens who are most vulnerable to natural disasters.
Despite early warnings, it was those citizens who got the short end of the stick of apartheid spatial planning, living in informal settlements built on river banks, or in mud huts and block-walled structures that bore the brunt of the storm. Families' accounts of the final moments of loved ones, or hearing the desolation in their voices as they realise they are left with nothing, have been heart-wrenching.
Watching blue-light brigades filled with high-ranking politicians - including President Cyril Ramaphosa - descend on affected communities, offering condolences, promising to make funding available and handing out emergency relief makes for cynicism. With 10 days to go before the elections the visits bordered on campaigning.
But this has been of little consequence to hundreds of people in Umlazi, Chatsworth and Marianhill who have been displaced or without water and electricity since Monday. Their repeated calls to the municipality's hotline have gone unanswered. Not surprising then that frustrated residents vented their anger on the streets in protest.
Instead of learning from the lessons of 2017 when a massive storm claimed eight lives and wreaked havoc in Durban, national, provincial and city disaster management has been dismally inadequate. eThekwini revealed that there are only 200 mattresses in its storeroom, and while close to R700m has been committed to redressing the damage, red tape will inevitably delay the implementation of action plans to provide aid to those hardest hit by this disaster.
Thankfully NGOs are providing temporary housing, food and clothing to hundreds of people. But if our government is truly serious about the wellbeing of its citizens, it will have to respond more effectively and robustly to issues relating to our housing policy and disaster management.

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