Counting the Costs: SA’s urgent need for infrastructure resilience

Road infrastructure in the country remains a problem. File picture: Henk Kruger/Cape Argus

Road infrastructure in the country remains a problem. File picture: Henk Kruger/Cape Argus

Published Oct 3, 2023


Infrastructure problems in South Africa continue to plague the nation.

The crisis was highlighted after the recent storms battered the Cape regions. Previous natural disasters, regular emergence of potholes and the backlog at schools have also put the spotlight on infrastructure resilience in the country.

Weak infrastructure affects every part of our lives, and calls are mounting for government to fix it.

The recent storm has raised concerns about the resilience of South Africa's infrastructure.

Areas with well-maintained infrastructure seem to have experienced less impact, whereas regions with weaker infrastructure felt the brunt of the disaster.

According to a study by the Infrastructure Consortium of Africa, poor infrastructure adds 30–40% to the costs of goods traded among African countries.

Professor Richard Walls of Stellenbosch University's Department of Civil Engineering provided IOL with his insights into the extensive damage caused by the recent storm.

“Damage will be in the billions for damage to roads, stormwater, electrical lines, formal and informal homes, mudslides, losses by farmers, efforts by municipalities to clear up after the event, etc,” he said.

Repairs to the infrastructure can take anything from weeks to months and often vary.

“Damage across the Western Cape varies quite extensively, from light damage that can be quickly remedied to extensive damage that may require months for full repairs,” Walls told IOL.

Walls noted that in extreme events, damage to infrastructure does occur, adding that it is “typically seen that areas with better infrastructure, which has also been well-maintained, experience less impact”.

What did the government promise in terms of infrastructure?

During the State of the Nation Address this year, the South African government detailed the plans to improve and, in some parts of South Africa, to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure.

According to government, by January this year, projects worth R232 billion were under construction and projects worth nearly R4 billion had been completed. The completed projects include new human settlements in Gauteng, road upgrades, and the development of small harbours.

More money has also been promised to go to other provinces.

What can be done?

Walls highlighted the need for continuous investment in infrastructure across the country to mitigate the negative economic impact of such events. He stressed the importance of early warning systems and effective communication during severe weather incidents.

To enhance infrastructure resilience, Walls emphasised the need for accurate data on rainfall and floods to predict peak flows reliably. Sizing bridges and culverts to withstand flood events requires this critical information.

South Africa faces substantial costs for repairing infrastructure damaged by the recent storm, highlighting the importance of ongoing investment in infrastructure resilience, early warning systems, and accurate data for effective disaster preparedness and recovery.