Feb 9, 2023

Mawazo Writing Africa

Writing about the main

SA’s flooding leaves survivors traumatised, homeless

When Nozipho Sithole closes her eyes to sleep, she can still hear the screams of her neighbor’s two young children, who were swept away by the floods that killed hundreds of people in South Africa last month.

How Sithole , many of those living in a community center in the eastern city of Durban are haunted by what they have seen and lost.

Thudded sobs echo through the shelter at night, she said.

“The night the floods started, the sand looked like the water was boiling, the whole house was moving,” said the 35-year-old, who quit her nursing job at a nursing home to check for survivors of the flood.

“The sand and the river swallowed the little ones,” she said, rocking a roommate’s baby at the animal shelter in Durban’s Ntuzuma district.

The Das The community center housed about 300 people made homeless by the floods in the KwaZulu-Natal province , killing at least 430 people, displacing thousands and causing damage estimated at 10 billion rand (685 miles).

Many are traumatized or grieving, others feel defeated and unable to rebuild their lives, said Nokuthula Shandu, an adviser with the medical aid organization Doctors Without Borders (MSF).

“Survivors ask ‘What work for?’ what they earn will not be enough to buy a new house build, they feel hopeless,” she said.

From California to India, coupled with extreme weather shocks Climate change — floods, droughts and wildfires — will increasingly threaten people’s mental health and specialized care by local authorities, experts say.

“They need to feel safe, they need to feel seen,” Shandu said after a day advising dozens of flood victims.


In Ntuzuma, meanwhile, thin mattresses line the walls Little children run around barefoot and ask the elders for toilet paper before heading to the portable toilets lined up in the parking lot.

Informal settlements of corrugated iron shacks are suffering the worst damage from the floods. Many of its residents were unemployed, struggling to make ends meet in one of the most unequal countries in the world.

Three-quarters of the 340 people housed at the Ntuzuma shelter were unemployed.

Others who worked as domestic workers, bricklayers, gardeners and informal traders lost their identification documents in the floods, making it even harder for them to find work, Sithole said.

While the provincial government did not responding to requests for comment, it has estimated that more than 6,800 people have been made homeless by the floods and said work has begun on temporary housing for nearly 4,400 families.

In Ntuzuma an informal system has emerged in the shelters, led by Sithole and other women, who oversee and distribute donations, making sure food is cooked and water distributed.

Children have Hausa formed homework clubs to work together on their schoolwork. A church donated a Wi-Fi router in the hall so residents can get online.

In order to wash themselves, residents of the shelter must bring a bucket of water to the portable toilets.

“What we need is a place of our own, there is no privacy here, no time to rest,” Sithole said, adding that they hadn’t heard if the government would help the displaced residents to rebuild their homes.


Providing mental health services is just as important as providing shelter and food aid, said Shandu, adding that people were queuing for the consultation.

“They said that as much as they need food, we have to talk first or else they wouldn’t even want to eat,” said them.

MSF has trained more than 200 healthcare workers in KwaZulu-Natal in Sen raising awareness of mental health so they can refer patients to registered counselors.

“This training arose out of the realization that there just weren’t enough counselors or social workers to go around, not nearly,” said Sean Christie , a spokesman for Doctors Without Borders.

The medical humanitarian organization is also training shelter leaders – like Sithole – to support community support groups and invite local musicians to play for flood victims.


But many residents said they already felt forgotten.

“It’s like we don’t exist,” said Thandeka Ndlovu, 36, as she prepared to distribute hot meals prepared in the kitchen at the Ntuzuma Community Hall.

She said she hoped the counseling would help her and her three daughters overcome their ordeal.

“They say time heals everything,” she said. “Maybe one day we can just see rain as rain.”