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Picture: The Citizen newspaper

Unlike five years ago, when heavy flooding in Soweto claimed four lives and displaced more than 200 families, the City of Johannesburg won’t be caught off-guard if confronted with a similar situation in future.

This is because the City has put in place an early warning system to ensure it deploys effective resources in time to limit the loss of life and damage to property in case of heavy rains and flooding.

It only takes an SMS from the South African Weather Service to the City’s disaster management team a day in advance to warn of such an event.

The Member of the Mayoral Committee responsible for Environment, Infrastructure and Services, Councillor Matshidiso Mfikoe, says there was no form of an early warning system in 2009 when heavy flooding struck Soweto.

“A system is now in place. An SMS is sent from the South African Weather Service to the City’s disaster management team a day in advance warning about possible bad weather. These messages are updated on the day, allowing the disaster management team time to deploy its resources effectively,” says Cllr Mfikoe.

The disaster management unit has also installed five automatic rain stations in Soweto, Alexandra, Ivory Park and Diepsloot to measure rainfall patterns.

Once sufficient data has been collected, these rain stations can be further developed by installing river gauge systems to measure water levels in low-lying areas where needed.

MMC Mfikoe says the City’s early warning system forms part of its efforts to deal with urban flooding and build resilience to climate change.

The 2009 devastating Soweto flooding disaster led to then Executive Mayor Cllr Amos Masondo declaring most of the suburb’s low-lying townships – including Dobsonville, Dube, Meadowlands, Mofolo, Mmesi Park and Braamfischerville – disaster areas.

The City spent more than R350 million on clean-up operations and on the reconstruction of infrastructure following the floods.

Johannesburg Emergency Management Service urges families to always have their own disaster management plans ready, including knowing how to respond to an emergency and who to call. In case of an emergency, call 10177 for assistance.