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Black, Vanessa & Bond, Patrick & Dada Rehana & Desmond, D’Sa (2009) A climate-poverty challenge in South Durban. Eye on Civil Society (The Mercury) : -.

Let’s be frank: the most important trend to affect our lives over the coming decades – climate change – is being ignored by our own people, by our municipal representatives, and by the companies doing business in our neighbourhoods.

In South Durban, the Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA) views climate change with the utmost concern and last year we issued a pamphlet to help residents understand the implications for our weather, our vulnerabilities to natural disaster and the ways we should begin adapting.

But we also think that mitigation of the problem is a responsibility of our organisation. After all, our neighbourhoods are full of climate tsotsis, especially in the petro-chemical, transport and pulp/paper industries.

The impact of climate change will especially be felt in several of our community’s vulnerable areas:

  • Low-lying sites include areas where shacks have been built in flood plains and other places with inadequate storm-water drainage – and poor people especially are located in environmentally-vulnerable zones.

  • Many wetland areas of South Durban have been destroyed over the past few decades.

  • The ability of the beachfront to withstand bruising waves and torrential storms has limits, as the March 2007 semi-tsunami proved by ripping up infrastructure and even roads at Ansteys, Brighton, Cuttings and ‘Toti beaches.

  • Our landscape has been covered with asphalt and cement, leading to worse flash floods, as we saw in July 2008.

  • Fishing has also already been adversely affected by rising seawater temperatures, as the failed 2009 sardine run demonstrated.

  • The small-scale agricultural sector near the airport could be devastated, as the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change anticipates a 90% reduction this century in African farmer production due to droughts and floods; while many other farmers from rural KwaZulu-Natal will immigrate to Durban as their livelihoods decline.

  • Street and market traders will be adversely affected if they do not get access to local food and fish products for resale.

  • Jobs in the air transport, shipping/trucking and auto sectors will be radically changed by the imposition of carbon taxes, so the employment base of South Durban will need to adjust, and that usually happens at the expense of ordinary people.

  • The proposed Transnet pipeline to double petroleum flows to Johannesburg is being rerouted through South Durban for what we believe are environmentally-racist reasons – and without adequate consideration to dangerous implications of (and for) climate change.

  • Already, our community is known as the armpit of South Africa, because sulphur pollution – that rotten egg smell – is notorious. Lethal fires break out regularly at badly-maintained facilities in the petro-chemical complex, especially the Engen refinery. But in addition, greenhouse gases such as CO2 and methane are being emitted by major industries at a rate that makes South Durban one of our country’s worst climate hotspots.

    These companies are going to have to completely transform their production systems so as to be less destructive. We believe many should vacate our community because of the persistent damage they have caused residents and the environment.

    Unfortunately, when it comes to climate change, it is not only the corporations that are now the enemies of our current residents and our descendants.

    Service delivery failure also characterises the Durban municipality’s climate policy. Officials have failed to incorporate climate change in economic development planning, leaving all our citizens far more vulnerable than we should be:

    Gambling that our city’s future will be based on tourism, major sports events and transport is absurd given what we now know about the need for national and global carbon taxes.

    The municipality’s attempt to profit from climate change through ‘Clean Development Mechanism’ carbon trading gimmicks at several landfill sites is not only unworkable, it is also immoral because it allows Northern countries and companies to maintain greenhouse gas emissions while neglecting green alternatives to waste disposal at home.

    The city’s failure to fund green jobs and the just transition away from fossil fuel addiction is another example of short-sightedness.

    City manager Michael Sutcliffe has already littered Durban with failed gambles and public subsidies at the Point and ICC, formerly Blue Flag Beaches, the Early Morning Market, bus privatisation, services disconnections and a growing housing crisis, evictions of fisher-folk from the port, non-consultative street renaming, and vast cost-overruns at the Mabhida Stadium. He has let loose police on all our communities when we attempt to stage non-violent marches. He treats shackdwellers, market traders, organised labour, and residents’ organisations with contempt.

    Supported by Oxfam, today SDCEA holds a day-long hearing at the Clairwood Tamil Institute Hall, focusing on ways that climate change and poverty are mutually destructive, and how we can fight back, for the good of our present and the survival of our society and environment long into the future.

    When the United Nations Kyoto Protocol Conference is updated in Copenhagen, Denmark in December, we will provide testimonies from South Durban to inform the deliberations. Last week, the main UN official responsible for climate change, Yvo de Boer, warned that efforts at reaching an emissions reduction deal “will not make it at this rate”.

    At the rate the elites in both Copenhagen and Durban are going, it is only through grassroots pressure that they will change their ways. It is up to all of us to save our species from self-destruction, by reversing the corporate and state policies and practices that are so certain to wreck the planet.

    (Black, Bond, Dada and D’Sa are helping to organize the SDCEA hearings.)

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