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Climate change behind South Africa’s devastating floods

Pumza Fihlani BBC News, Johannesburg

A report by the World Weather Attribution (WWA), an international group of climate scientists, released on Friday has found that climate change led to increased rainfall that caused devastating flooding in South Africa last month.

It’s one of the first reports on the devastating floods that hit KwaZulu-Natal in April – described as the worst in 60 years.

The floods left more than 430 people dead, tens of thousands displaced and millions of dollars’ worth of damage.

A team of scientists from South Africa, Europe and the US collaborated on a study to see what role climate change played in the recent floods and what lessons can be learned.

The flooding occurred as a direct consequence of two days of extreme rainfall in the region, at unexpected levels. The WWA report says many factors – natural and manmade – contributed to the high death toll and damage in the region.

It said initial assessments show that the floods disproportionately affected poorer communities. The report also found that historical injustices that continue to affect communities such as apartheid-era housing planning, old infrastructure and a lack of clear early warning systems all worsened the impact of the floods.

It did find positive signs, according to the WWA – as the eThekwini municipality in Durban moves to implement existing plans around improved flood protection and to invest in a state-of-the-art warning system.

The scientists say South Africa, like many countries, needs to speed up its climate change adaptation plans, with extreme weather events expected to increase in the future.

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