Green House Gas Emissions; Flooding in Sadc Countries: South African Weather Services briefing


21 August 2007
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Meeting Summary

A summary of this committee meeting is not yet available.

Meeting report

21 August 2007

: Mr L Zita (ANC)

Documents handed out:
Carbon Capture and Storage PowerPoint presentation
Flooding in SADC PowerPoint presentation
Severe Weather Forecasting PowerPoint presentation
The Cape Point Research and Monitoring Programme PowerPoint presentation

Audio recording of meeting

The South African Weather Services briefed the Committee on four issues: carbon capture and storage, flooding in the Southern African Development Community, the Cape Point Research and Monitoring Programme and the Severe Weather Forecasting Demonstration project of Southern African countries. Members were particularly interested in how communities could be better assisted to deal with the impact of flooding. It was agreed that adequate disaster management was needed at national, provincial as well as local level. Rural areas were most vulnerable to flooding (and other weather disasters). SAWS made clear that warning of extreme weather events had to be made using means that best suited different areas – traditional knowledge ought not to be disregarded. While floodwater could be collected, such systems were costly. Work on text message alerts of extreme weather occurrences was underway but SAWS stressed that such a system would only work once adequate public awareness and education had taken place.

The Committee’s concern about the safety of nuclear and carbon dioxide waste was allayed by the assertion that with careful monitoring, the situation could be controlled. Visits to the United Kingdom and Australia ought to give the Committee opportunity to compare different system of carbon capture.

The delegation pleaded that on the Committee’s upcoming trip to the region, Members should encourage their counterparts to give their respective weather services the same political support that the South African Weather Service received. Without such support the battle would be hard won. Infrastructure development also had to feature quite high on the agenda.

Chairperson’s opening remarks

The Chairperson welcomed the South African Weather Services (SAWS) delegation which comprised Dr J Mphepya (General Manager: Operations), Mr M Ndabambi (Senior Manager: Forecasting), Prof L Dube (Senior Manager: Climate), Mr E Brunke (Manager: Cape point) and Mr E Poolman (Senior Manager: Prediction Research). He explained that that day’s interaction with SAWS would be of particular importance considering that the Committee would soon be visiting a number of the countries through which the Zambezi River lowed. The Committee planned to visit Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Zambia and possibly also Botswana. Members felt that with the consistent occurrence of flooding in the region it was important for them to take the initiative to talk to their counterparts in these countries so as to determine what the problem was and whether there was no way of turning this destructive occurrence into an advantage.

South Africa had enormous reserves of coals and, in the context of debate around climate change, the Committee was interested in whether there was anything that could be so that this resource which was in abundance could be captured. With this in mind the Committee would also be undertaking a visit to Australia who had one of the most advanced carbon capture and storage methods.

South African Weather Services Presentation
The Cape Point Research and Monitoring Programme looked at the atmospheric and environmental importance of trace gases. The Committee received information on trace gas trends and their climactic relevance, on international collaborations, and why there was a need to measure atmospheric parameters. Members were also taken through a detailed explanation of the greenhouse effect, global temperature changes, man’s impact on the environment and the impact of global change.

Carbon capture and storage as well as its implications were explained in great detail. The Committee was also given a glimpse of how carbon dioxide storage affected oceans and the climate, how it was transported and the effect such transport would have on the environment. Although not viable at present, it was believed that carbon capture and storage could play a key role in reducing future emissions from the developing world.

The section on flooding in the region contained a global perspective of floods, the historical patterns and future patterns for flooding in the regions as well as the status of flood forecasting. It was made clear that if weather disasters were to be managed a holistic disaster risk management programme would be critical.

The application of weather forecast information was a diverse and complicated endeavour in South Africa because the country consisted of both developed and developing areas. This section of the presentation took the Committee through the forecast challenges, weather warnings and the details of the severe weather forecasting demonstration project. The objectives of the project included improving the ability of national meteorological centres to forecast severe weather events, improving the lead-time for alerts of such events and identifying gaps and areas of improvement.

Mr G Morgan (DA) thanked SAWS for the effort and research that had gone into their presentations. He was curious about what the SAWS meant with the statement that we needed to “live with floods” because they were natural occurrences and were inevitable. He understood the sentiment behind the statement but sought clarity on what it meant in relation to flash floods.

Mr Poolman explained that it was accepted that one could not evacuate everyone once a floods warning had been issued. Such an exercise was not economically viable. Awareness needed to be raised around how people should react to warnings so that the impact of the flooding could be reduced. Learning to live with floods was the globally accepted practice.

Mr Morgan was aware that one should also aim to mitigate the effects floods had but was concerned about the extent to which human actions complicated such efforts. He was concerned about for instance the impact of deforestation, increased agriculture, poor urban planning, the concretisation of towns and cities as well as damaged water courses caused by poor litter collection. He realised that these were micro issues but thought that they were important in a holistic approach to the problem. All of these had an effect on the extent of the impact flash floods had.

Mr Morgan realised that within the SADC region South Africa had the most capacity in dealing with flooding, and sought the SAWS’ comment on whether other countries in the region regarded flooding as high a priority as they ought to. In developing countries there were often a number of competing issues that needed to be dealt with and sometimes the environment was not at the top of the agenda. He was pleased that South Africa assisted its neighbours and asked whether world bodies had made available increased funding in order to increase capacity in those countries. He reminded the Committee that in South Africa, Mozambique and increasingly in Zambia, flooding was the most frequent form of natural disaster.

Mr Ndabambi could not comment on where flooding featured on other SADC countries’ agendas. He explained that South Africa had proactively tried to warn Mozambique of the approach of tropical cyclone Favio earlier that year. South Africa had hoped that I would be allowed to send helicopters that could evacuate people before the cyclone struck (it was not possible to fly in and out during) but the Mozambican government did not agree. They responded by saying that the people in the, at risk areas were stubborn, and continued building in the area. He hoped that the Committee would encourage its SADC counterparts to react more swiftly especially in cases where human lives were at risk.

Mr S Rasmeni asked whether SAWS had considered making use of cell phone service providers so that they could alert people of floods via text messages.

Mr Ndabambi confirmed that such a suggestion was under discussion at the moment. He added however that the SAWS was concerned about raising unnecessary alarm that would result in unnecessary evacuations which were quite costly. The SAWS preferred that before a text-message alert warning system was piloted, awareness be promoted so that people and communities could be capacitated. SAWS was in the process of having workshops with municipalities and had also held a number of workshops with the media. He was hopeful that in the next two years marked progress. Once people had been adequately in formed and prepared a text alert system could be quite successfully put in place.

Ms M Ntuli (ANC) pointed out that in many rural areas there were no cell phone signals. She felt that rural areas were more vulnerable to flooding. It was often considered to be a privilege to live along riverbanks as it affords greater access to water and fish. She wondered whether the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism (DEAT) should not consider declaring river banks etc protected areas so that people did not live next them and thus did not become victims of the effects of flashfloods.

Mr Ndabambi said that realising that in some rural areas there would be no cell phone reception, the SAWS had embarked on an investigation of other alternatives. In Cape Town there was a project that used flags to alert communities about when it was safe or not to light fires. Such projects would be more appropriate for the rural areas and would involve community members.

Mr Poolman added that the greater vulnerability of rural areas was common to all developing countries. In developed countries one warning was issued and rural and urban communities reacted to it. In developing countries, there were two different warnings, one for the developed part of the country and another for the developing part. The process was complicated and it was interesting to see how developing countries approached the matter. In Madagascar flags were raised to warn of approaching cyclones, while in Malawi someone went around on a bicycle to warn communities. Every country used what worked for them. He emphasised that traditional knowledge had to be used - one could not use developed methods in rural areas but must use what worked best for a particular area.

Mr Ndabambi said that it was very difficult to reach people with warnings so that disasters could be minimised. The Severe Weather Forecasting project was the first of its kind and was aimed at bringing the region together so that they could come up with alternatives to the methods currently being used. South Africa was already using alternative methods for reaching the rural areas. The project required interaction with the SAWS and the weather offices of other countries as well as feedback from their civil protection authorities. He saw the project as the first step towards a forum for reaching solutions.

Ms Ntuli asked whether countries had enough resources to protect themselves from flashfloods. She wondered how membership of SADC benefited them when disaster struck and was also interested in how the United Nations (UN) might be able to assist. She agreed that floods could perhaps not be avoided. She wondered what could be done to ensure that people built their houses in areas that were safe.

Mr Poolman said that it was important that people were involved in the process. Disaster managers had to learn how to cope with the situations and prepare communities. Experience showed that people simply move back into flood prone areas once the disaster was over. The best defence would thus be to develop methods of coping with the impact.

Ms Ntuli pleaded with the SAWS to return to areas most affected and to try and devise ways in which people could be protected. She said that in Japan they now had technology that made it possible for houses to be fitted with earthquake detection devices and wondered whether such technology would at some stage be available for flood prone areas too.

Ms J Chalmers (ANC) thought it amazing that the SAWS had a five-day lead in terms of forecasting. She wondered how predictable cyclones really were. In the case of the recent cyclone Favio two different warnings had been issued and she wondered what would have happened had the wrong forecast been followed! The Member was also interested in how other African countries would catch up with South Africa, not only in terms of personnel but also as far as equipment and technology was concerned. She asked whether the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) got involved in assisting under-resourced countries so that those countries could improve their training and equipment. She reminded all that improved training and equipment would assist in protecting not only those countries but also the entire region.

Mr Ndabambi explained that it was very difficult to predict tropical cyclones. The prediction could change every three hours. One needed experience in terms of understanding the forecasting tools. He added that accuracy also depended on the tools one chose to believe in. Reunion’s weather forecasters had predicted that the cyclone was heading south, because that was what their numerical prediction models showed. The SAWS was using a model, which accurately showed that the cyclone was heading for Mozambique. SAWS use that particular model due to the prediction success they had previously had with it. Data analysis for weather forecasting was very complex it did not necessarily rely on skills only.

Dr Mphepya said that the WMO had two programmes that looked into supporting least developed countries. SAWS were often called to assist neighbouring and other African countries. The WMO would prefer to deal with a regional body rather than individual countries. He urged the Committee to encourage its SADC counterparts to give the necessary political support to their weather services. Such support would strengthen Meteorological Association of Southern Africa (MASA), which in turn would result in many other spin offs.

Mr D Maluleke (ANC) noted that certain countries lacked resources for forecasting. He wondered what alternatives were available.

Dr Mphepya explained that Southern African directors had come together to form the MASA, which was still in its development stages. Its Constitution had recently been finalised and would now go through the SADC organs. The MASA would assist in raising funds. Donors did not want to donate to individual countries but rather to regional projects. They hoped to raise funds for instrument acquisition and care, infrastructure, communication and training. MASA would also be able to purchase equipment in bulk – such equipment would help to improve measurements in the SADC region.

Ms Chalmers had experienced the 1968 flood that had wiped out the Port Elizabeth city centre. She commented on the continued devastation visited on people living in areas prone to flooding and asked whether the SAWS were able to assist municipalities so that communities could be made aware of flood risks.

Mr Rasmeni agreed that poor peri-urban planning sometimes contributed to the devastating effect flash floods had. He wondered whether SAWS had had the opportunity to raise these concerns with the other relevant stakeholders so that when peri-urban infrastructure was set up, the possibility of floods was taken into account.

Mr Maluleke said that plans, policies and legislation were not worth the paper they were written on unless they were implemented. Town planners were supposed to identify flood prone areas and make rules and regulations that stated that those areas should not be built upon. He said one had to ask whether the people living in areas were merely negligent or whether it was the fault of the authorities who blatantly disregarded and ignored the rules they themselves made.

Mr Ndabambi explained that collaborative efforts were being enhanced and the National Disaster Management Office in Pretoria was playing a leading role to see that departments worked together. Focus had now shifted to ensure that such efforts were strong at local level too and not only at provincial and national level. The Department of Provincial and Local Government (DPLG) was now enhancing local municipalities’ performance. He was confident that some improvement would soon be visible.

Mr Poolman added that town planners needed to get on board as far as disaster risk management strategies were concerned. Disaster risk managers had to approve their plans. He emphasised the importance of a holistic approach.

Ms C Zikalala (IFP) said that the presentation made clear that there was much science and technology involved in the study of floods. She asked whether such information could be made more accessible to lay people.

Ms Zikalala, referring to the air disaster that had recently struck a Kenyan airline, wondered whether SAWS worked with airports to make sure that pilots received early warning signals.

Mr Ndabambi explained that the SAWS only made recommendations to pilots. The pilots themselves had to take the final decision whether to fly or not. He explained that many times pilots assumed that because they knew the areas they flew in, they were in a position to avoid certain areas where bad weather had been predicted. In his opinion pilots were becoming like the minibus taxi drivers especially as far as the speed with which they land!

Ms Zikalala asked how forests and mountains impacted on rainfall patterns.

Mr Ndabambi appreciated the question, which led him to believe that the Member had insight into forecasting techniques. Forests and mountains played quite a significant role. Mountains played a role in triggering tornadoes. The evaporation taking place in the forests also helped to enhance the available moisture in the atmosphere. Sometimes mountains triggered the upward movement of air (necessary for rain).

Ms Zikalala wondered which occurred more regularly, fires or floods.

Mr Ndabambi could not recall that study had been done to determine which occurred more regularly. In his subjective opinion floods did. Mr Poolman confirmed that flooding was more common in South Africa. The conditions for run away fires were more common however and therefore warnings related to fires were issued more often.

Ms Zikalala asked the delegation to elaborate on how SAWS had managed to become the leading institution as far as supplying weather information.

Mr Ndabambi thought that the investments South Africa had made in technology had been of great assistance. The country had super computers and equipment that neighbouring countries did not have. The SAWS was grateful to the DEAT for paying attention to its motivation for high quality equipment.

The Chairperson wondered what the cost implications of having a real time weather information system would be for Southern Africa.

Mr Poolman said that this question was difficult to respond to since it was dependant upon the area. It would also be very costly.

The Chairperson asked what the SAWS delegation thought the Committee should raise with their Southern African counterparts during the upcoming visits.

Dr Mphepya thought that issues around infrastructure ought to be high on the agenda. The SAWS might be the best but if its neighbours did not have the necessary infrastructure they were still in a precarious position. He said that although Cuba and the United States (US) did not agree on many issue, when it came to weather-related matters they worked together so that they could be well informed and receive warnings well ahead of time. Infrastructure was very important and would help in forecasting issuing flood warnings.

Mr Poolman added that the support governments should give to the integrated development risk approach should be emphasised. Only through such an approach could disaster management become a reality. The Committee should also consider why many SADC countries allocated so little money to their weather services – if weather services enjoyed the political support they did in South Africa, the situation could be radically improved.

Mr A Mokoena (ANC) congratulated the panel on a well-prepared presentation. He recalled that on the Committee’s visit to the SAWS offices in June. They had been fascinated by a factory that manufactured “gadgets”, retailing at about R200 000 apiece, that could be used in weather forecasting. SAWS had complained that poor marketing made it difficult to sell these to countries that might need them. He asked if the marketing strategy had since improved.

Dr Mphepya said that funding raised by MASA could be used to develop the manufacturing instrument as well as to aid distribution.

The Chairperson asked what prospects there were for capturing water from flooding in the southern African region.

Mr Mokoena said that he was not very pessimistic about how to deal with floods. He realised that flooding was an act of God but felt that human negligence contributed to the devastation it wrought. He argued for the building of a canal that would divert the devastating floodwaters that came from the Zambezi. The Zambezi River originated from the Great Lakes, from where it travelled 2 700 km into Angola, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Mozambique which, formed a basin geomorphologically and would thus always be a catchments area for the river which often overflowed there. He said that if that water could be redirected, via a very big canal to flow into the Limpopo River, such as in the case of the Lesotho Highlands Project, flooding could be minimised. The project would be capital intensive but he reminded all that when the Lesotho project was first thought of there were objections to it too. Now the entire region benefited from it. He thought that the Committee should argue for such a canal during its visits to the region.

Mr Poolman explained that floodwater was being captured in dams in many countries. It was a very expensive endeavour and the river basin commission would have to work on it. Moving water from one basin to another was an area, was a hydraulic mater that the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry (DWAF) would be best able to talk to. In his personal opinion one would have to take the impact on the ecosystem of the river into account. He added that he was not a hydrologist so could not give an exact answer. An impact assessment would have to be done. In South Africa water was being moved from certain basins to others. He stressed that it was important to consider the impact of such a diversion.

Mr Mokoena said that he had wanted to know whether the river could be diverted. Slues gates could also be used to control the flow. His question was not necessarily related to diverting floodwater.

Mr Mokoena suggested a programme of “hindsight proactive reconstruction” – after a flood preparations should already be made for any other floods that might occur in future. He felt that the Department of Public Works (DPW) could assist in this regard. The government had R400 billion to roll out towards infrastructure development. Instead of spending on peripheral issues, most of that money should be spent on infrastructure aimed at disaster management capacity building.

Mr Maluleke did not believe that weather disasters were new. People had ways of trying to make sure that they minimised disasters, they only had to apply their common sense. He said that people were their own worst enemies because they knew what the problems were but did not take the necessary steps to circumvent them.

Mr Poolman explained that typical disaster risk management activities these days operated in a holistic process. This process involved predictive preparedness, mitigation factors, relief operations and post disaster activities. The weather service actually played a very small role in the bigger circle. It was important to bear in mind that the disaster risk management set up, not only in South Africa, but across the world had developed tremendously in the last ten years. South Africa was getting in the forefront of the holistic approach to disaster management. One could not only react but should also have mitigation measures in place to prevent similar occurrences or similar impacts.

Disaster risk activities involved many departments. Disaster Risk Managers facilitated the processes. South Africa had provincial as well as local disaster risk management units. The SAWS worked very closely with these units. The units were trained to interpret the warnings and to assess the risk in their areas. They had to develop mitigation strategies and work with the relevant departments to come up with solutions. South Africa had a good system and he urged Members to support the process. There were some areas where the disaster risk managers still struggled. It was important to make sure that all districts had managers and that the managers were able to do the work. Without support from communities and municipalities, the SAWS would never be able to reach the people on the ground. He agreed that DPW should play their role.

Ms R Ndzanga (ANC) asked what impact flooding had on marine resources.

Mr Poolman explained that an oceanographer would be bets able to respond. In his opinion rainfall would not have much impact. Weather systems could impact on wave generation and that might cause the kind of damage recently seen on the East Coast.

Mr Mokoena wondered whether SAWS had any comments on the phenomenon of rainmaking. The Chairperson said that rain making related to indigenous knowledge services.

Dr Mphepya said that the SAWS started a project in 2006 that addressed the matter. A team of scientists was in the process of being assigned to the project, which would look at the Queen Modjadji project and that would look at harnessing some of the regional forecasting. A second project would consider indigenous knowledge of lightening. The SAWS was working with an expert who had done much research in the area. People used to survive in adverse climates and one had to learn from how they adapted to those climate changes.

The Chairperson requested the SAWS to develop a memo for the Committee that would clearly indicate what issues the Committee should raise with its counterparts in SADC.

Mr Mokoena asked the SAWS to comment on the carbon development mechanism (CDM), which had caused such a big stir. According to the CDM developed countries would have been able to pollute and emit, and those who were not emitting would have been paid for contributing to pollution.

Prof Dube recalled that at some stage in the early eighties there was a notion that climate change could be dealt with by planting tress. This was mostly embarked upon in developing countries. With new technological advances other options such as carbon sequestration were discovered. He emphasised that carbon capture and storage was one of the ways of dealing with climate change.

Dr Mphepya said that one would think that a project that captured and reduced carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was the best. It was an area in which the SAWS was not a key player. The DME would be the best to address the matter.

Ms Chalmers thought it necessary that the Committee received a briefing on carbon trading which was crucial. The Chairperson agreed that an additional meeting would be necessary so that the Committee would be able to engage with the issue of carbon trading in more detail.

Ms Chalmers asked whether there was anything that carbon dioxide, which was being emitted in such huge quantities, could be used for.

Prof Dube said that he only knew of carbon dioxide as waste and knew of no other use for it.

Ms Chalmers thought that South Africa was doing much as far as appropriate air quality legislation was concerned and wondered what the situation in other SADC countries was as far as appropriate legislation to contain emissions.

Prof Dube said that he did not know of any such legislation. Most of the air quality problems in Africa related to biomass burning. South Africa was perhaps the only culprit with regard to other serious sources of pollution.

Mr Maluleke thought that it would make sense that when it came to legislation on air quality etc, SADC would have common legislation.

Prof Dube agreed but thought it necessary to bear in mind that currently the mining legislation dealt with the extraction of a resource and not with the injection of a resource into a geological formation. One needed to come up with guidelines and then review mineral resources to see what the processes and procedures for carbon sequestration were and what quantities were allowable in the geological formation. He would support certain common of pieces legislation in SADC – air pollutants did not respect political boundaries.

Dr Mphepya said that it was important to look at what the sources of the emissions were. They differed from country to country. Such differences would pose a challenge if one wanted to develop a similar approach for the entire region. His concern was around the transport of pollutants. All the power stations situated in the Mpumalanga Highveld emitted above the invasion layer. One needed to know where that pollution went, what impact it had and when. Legislation should not only look at health issues but also at those related to agriculture etc.

He said that there was not much that happened in SADC as far as emission reduction. ESKOM used to have a project that encouraged SADC countries to come on board and to investigate the impact climate change would have on their countries.

Ms Ntuli sought clarity on the impact acidification would have on swimming.

Prof Dube said that the acidification of oceans would not be immediate. A PH of 7,2 was within the acceptable limit. PH - levels of 2 or 3 would be very dangerous. Even though acidification of lakes due to carbonic acid and other things would take place, it would take a very long time to reach that point.

Ms Ntuli wondered whether, considering the high green house gas emissions, Cape Point would still have a role to play in ten years time.

Mr Brunke believed that in 20 years that Cape Pint would till be around. Internationally there was a need for more and better measurements to understand the complex systems of the atmosphere. The Americans started to measure carbon dioxide in 1958 and was no a very famous record. Cape Point measured the reactive gas, carbon monoxide and had the longest such record. This would help to give an indication of whether it will have the ability to clean itself.

The Chairperson sought clarity on which was more dangerous: nuclear waste or carbon dioxide waste. It appeared as though the cost of sequestration would be the same.

Prof Dube said that South Africa had large reserves of Uranium.

The Chairperson said that the debate was around what to do with the nuclear waste. He was interested in what kind of waste was more dangerous.

Prof Dube responded that both carbon dioxide and nuclear waste required effective monitoring. The Western sections of the country were suitable for geological sequestration of carbon dioxide. The same was true for nuclear waste. Effective monitoring of the waste sites was very important.

The Committee wanted to visit an Anglo American plant in Australia to see how they went about carbon capture and storage. He wondered whether SAWS felt that it would be more beneficial to go to Northern counties (UK), which appeared to be more advanced.

Prof Dube said that there was much development in carbon capture and storage in Europe especially in Norway and England. Australia was doing much as far as looking at CCFs, but the literature he had consulted highlighted successes in the North mainly.

The Chairperson asked that Prof Dube speak specifically to the capture of carbon that came from coal.

Prof Dube explained that the developments he referred to related mainly to gas and oil plants. He felt that since the work on the Australian trip had already been done and since there were so many developments in Australia, the trip could continue. He suggested that later the Committee might undertake a visit to the North so that Members could make a comparative study.

The Chairperson thanked the SAWS for their input.

The meeting was adjourned.



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