Coastal degradation and flooding will require substantial funding

Tuesday 3 October 2023

“Degradation along the Western Cape coastline is well documented and is increasingly a cause for concern as valuable properties and infrastructure ends up either damaged or destroyed, and even lives are lost due to severe storm surges surprising the unsuspecting unable to move to higher ground and swept away by powerful waves. But what would be the long term effect of coastal degradation?”, asks Cobus Meiring of the Garden Route Environmental Forum (GREF).

Ironically, Marlene Laros heading up the Biodiversity and Coastal Management Division of the Western Cape Environmental Affairs and Development Planning (DEADP), in June 2023, did a  presentation on coastal vulnerability at the Annual GREF Climate Change and Environmental Management Indaba explaining the indicators used to determine where the future high water mark would be and how drastic the implication to land owners and authorities would be in terms of climate change and sea level rise, and the most recent climate induced disasters causing billions of Rand to mend is a stark warning that the change is real.

The Southern Cape and Garden Route economy and tourism sector is highly dependent on its coastline, scenic rivers and lakes, forests and mountains, and degradation of these assets over time can negatively affect the allure of the region as a world class destination, and planning for change is paramount.

Regional authorities, including the Garden Route District Municipality (GRDM) and all the coastal municipalities are acutely aware of where their respective vulnerable infrastructure is in terms of exposure to storm surges and flooding, and where possible are already planning to move assets away from potential exposure, and not rebuilding where history no doubt will repeat itself.

Regular and severe flooding did hit the Western Cape badly throughout 2023, and the damage to infrastructure, agriculture and the economy at large, is substantial. Coupled with damage inflicted by storm surges and regular power outages caused by load shedding is not helping the regional economy as even the most resilient is affected one way or the other. Addressing coastal degradation requires substantial investments in mitigation and adaptation measures and may include beach nourishment, seawalls, and other engineering solutions to protect coastal areas. The long-term costs of these measures can be significant, and does not bode well for cash strapped municipalities.

Governments globally lack the funds to assist coastal communities exposed to sea level rise and the destruction of storm surges, and South Africa is certainly no exception. Fixing bridges, hard infrastructure and roads after severe flooding are extremely expensive with significant knock- on socio- economic impacts as products cannot reach markets and power and water security is compromised for prolonged periods of time.

From an environmental point of view, coastal degradation often leads to the destruction of valuable coastal habitats, including wetlands, dunes, and estuaries. These ecosystems provide essential breeding grounds and shelter for many marine species.

In summary, coastal degradation in the Western Cape, as in other coastal regions, has far-reaching and potentially devastating long-term consequences for the environment, economies, and communities. Addressing these issues typically involves a combination of strategies, including sustainable coastal management, land-use planning, climate change adaptation measures, and conservation efforts to mitigate the impacts and preserve coastal ecosystems.


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