A new flood chronology for KwaZulu-Natal (1836-2022): The April 2022 Durban floods in historical context

Stefan Grab, David Nash

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In April 2022, flooding and associated geohazards caused major loss of life and extensive damage in the greater Durban region and large areas of the KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) coastal zone. Heavy rainfall that triggered the flooding and mass movement events was reported in national and international media as having ‘smashed weather records’. However, no systematic and up-to-date flood record exists for KZN to allow the April 2022 floods to be viewed within their full historical context. This study presents an historical geographic account of flooding in KZN, with a particular focus on the greater Durban region. The flood record expands upon available databases held by the South African Weather Service, drawing on missionary accounts, newspapers and personal diaries to identify all significant flood events in KZN since the mid-nineteenth century. We document 53 significant flood events from 1850-1899 (average ~1.1 per annum) and 210 from 1900-2022 (average ~1.7 per annum). Within the limits of our data, we suggest that the frequency of flooding in Durban has likely doubled over the last century. Our research confirms that the April 2022 floods were likely the most catastrophic natural disaster yet recorded in KZN, in collective terms of lives lost and overall economic impact.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-22
Number of pages22
JournalSouth African Geographical Journal
Publication statusPublished - 10 Apr 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The research that underpinned the identification of nineteenth-century flood events in KwaZulu-Natal was funded by Leverhulme Trust Research Project Grant number F/00 504/D. Thanks to our colleagues Georgina Endfield, Jørgen Klein and Kathleen Pribyl who worked on American, Norwegian and German mission sources, respectively, as part of this project. We thank the two anonymous reviewers who provided constructive inputs.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 The Society of South African Geographers.


  • Flooding
  • flood hazards
  • rainfall records
  • documentary evidence
  • KwaZulu-Natal


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