School of Built Environment & Development Studies

Durban’s landspout draws attention to failing infrastructure


DURBAN – The recent landspout, which many believed was a tornado, that hit Durban last week has highlighted the city’s need for planning and innovation.

A video of what resembled a tornado near Inanda valley, followed by heavy rain, resulted in the death of at least seven people, with seven others believed to be missing.

According to SAWS, on first impression, landspouts and tornadoes look very similar as both phenomena manifest themselves as a dark, spinning vortex or tube extending from the base of a cloud.

Both phenomena have the capacity to cause wind damage. Tornadoes typically cause damage across a much greater range of the EF scale; from EF0 (minor damage) right up to EF5 (catastrophic damage), whilst wind damage due to landspouts or waterspouts tends to be less severe.

While landspouts and tornadoes may look very much alike, their formative processes are widely different. The formation of a tornado requires a “parent thunderstorm”.

There was no evidence to suggest that any electrical storms were active in the Inanda and Phoenix areas during mid-afternoon when the landspout was observed.

While the phenomena is not common, Professor Hope Hangwelani Magidimisha-Chipungu, Lecturer in Town and Regional Planning at the University of Kwazulu-Natal, said the city was not resilient enough to handle natural disasters in terms of infrastructure.

“The city is consistently trying to improve its state of readiness but some areas are more prepared than others. Those are the more affluent areas where people have formal houses and the infrastructure is maintained. Areas like informal settlements continue to be under-prepared for a number of reasons. These include the fact that structures are not built in an acceptable way because they don’t observe building codes.

“The maintenance of infrastructure has always been a problem as well. We need to ask the question, why are people not taking responsibility for looking after their space? If people throw plastics outside, it will clog the drainage system when it rains and once there is a clogged drain there are going to be floods. Even if the rains are not severe, if the drainage system is not responding, this becomes a problem,” said Magidimisha-Chipungu.

She added that there are a number of things people can do if another landspout occurs to protect their homes.

“Awareness is very important. People need to be educated. People also need to make very tough decisions about their lives. They need to decide if they want to stay in an informal settlement which is obviously prone to flooding and also a target for heavy rainfall and wind. It’s very difficult for ordinary South Africans to decide on wanting something better because that speaks to money and resources but people have to start thinking about how they can then design their environment in a responsible manner,” said Magidimisha-Chipungu.

Dr Roche Mamabolo of the Lora Centre for Innovation & Entrepreneurship, said new solutions are needed to handle natural disasters in the country.

“Innovation is important because it brings new solutions that are not going to make climate change worse. We then need to convert these ideas into viable businesses. An idea is great but if it does not turn into a viable business we are unable to take these ideas to thousands and millions of people who need the solutions.

“The problems that we have are not just local, they are national and international. We need entrepreneurs who are going to think nationally and internationally. We are now experiencing these problems (natural disasters) and we have had red flags indicating that we need to change the way we do things. The role government can play now is to come up with legislation to support the change that we need. We need to start opening avenues for entrepreneurs,” said Mamabolo.

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