Flooding in Mdantsane. (Photo via Thabiso N/@BraThabs1, Twitter)

Science and innovation provide speedy response to flood-stricken Eastern Cape

Flooding in Mdantsane. (Photo via Thabiso N/@BraThabs1, Twitter)

Flooding in Mdantsane. (Photo via Thabiso N/@BraThabs1, Twitter)

The Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation, Dr Blade Nzimande, hails as successful the swift response by the Department of Science and Innovation’s entities, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), the South African National Space Agency (SANSA) and the South African Environmental Observation Network (SAEON) to the floods in the Eastern Cape.

This follows last week’s torrential rains which devastated parts of the Eastern Cape, destroying infrastructure, homes, water and electricity, and disrupting teaching and learning. These heavy downpours also claimed three lives.

The floods left many homeless and displaced. About 724 people have been affected, with 205 left homeless.  There has been damage to 89 municipal roads and 18 bridges.  In Port St Johns, four provincial roads are reported to be severely damaged, and one school and some government offices have been completely flooded.

The Minister’s comments follow President Cyril Ramaphosa visit to the flood-stricken area yesterday, 28 March 2023.

The Minister confirmed that the Department of Science and Innovation together with its entities, the CSIR, SANSA  provided interventions which included a data centre to support the distribution of relief resources, data analyses, decision-support tools, high-resolution imagery, possible assistance with resolving communication challenges and water purification technologies.

The Minister said SANSA has already communicated with the National Disaster Management Centre to activate the Charter to facilitate access to high resolution images to map affected areas.

“Given the reported risk of landslides that could affect some roads and infrastructure, plans are also under way to get synthetic aperture radar data images to assist with subsidence mapping,” said the Minister Nzimande.

The Minister believes that given the deepening impact of climate change, the role of science, technology and innovation in disaster mitigation, response and in some instances, prevention, has become critical.

“We need proactive engagement with the science system for it to provide science-based advice in advance.  Research is telling us that the occurrences of natural disasters such as flooding, droughts, heat waves, etc. are becoming a frequent phenomena, not only nationally, but also globally. More importantly, with advances, science can predict these with a higher level of accuracy than has been the case in the past,” said Minister Nzimande.

The Minister further said that it was important for government to use available data on vulnerability mapping, prediction models, settlement planning and infrastructure deployment.

Minister Nzimande said the Department of Science and Innovation and its entities provided similar assistance during last year’s equally devastating floods in KwaZulu-Natal.

Satellite imaging provided by SANSA, is making critical inputs on water sources, and is also informing the development of new transport infrastructure systems.

The Minister said the work ranges from road and bridge infrastructure assessments to the Coastal Vulnerability Tool and Index – an interactive decision-support tool and integrated geospatial flooding index for coastal cities and town development.

The Minister also highlighted SANSA’s assistance following the Jagersfontein Dam flooding in the Free State on 11 September 2022. The dam in Jagersfontein burst its walls causing damage to property and the loss of life.

“Following the  Jagersfontein disaster SANSA released satellite imagery to aid the disaster response efforts and to quantify the damage caused by floods. The data was analysed by SANSA to map the extent of damage to property and infrastructure in flood affected areas,” said the Minister.

Earth Observation derived intelligence that assisted in conducting post-flooding disaster quantification and supports the estimation of overall damage, thus indicating the importance of such data in government response efforts.

“This information is critical for government and business to establish the financial requirements and priority areas to focus on in order to ensure the saving of lives and limited impact on the economy as well as improved planning at municipalities,” said the Minister.

The Minister emphasized that all these capabilities remain readily available for all provinces to use in case of necessity.

For more information contact Taslima.Viljoen@dst.gov.za or 082 990 1685.

Issued by the Ministry of Higher Education, Science and Innovation.

Vaneshree Maharaj