Impact of drought in South Africa (extract from PMG Monitor November 2015)
The current drought and water crisis has been at the forefront of the national debate in Parliament leading to several committee meetings, media briefings, debates and parliamentary questions on this issue. South Africans have been urged to use water sparingly as the drought, brought on by the El Nino event, affects large parts of the country.
The government says it is strategic and cautious about how it uses, conserves and manages this precious resource as South Africa is a water scarce country and is ranked as one of the 30 driest countries in the world. Despite all this, between 37% and 42% of potable water (drinking water) is unaccounted for. (In the FS the figure for some rural towns is 77%) This water is lost through leaks, wastage and illegal connections.
To date, six provinces are under observation with four (Kwazulu-Natal, Limpopo, Free State and North West Province) declared drought-stricken areas, and two (Mpumalanga and Western Cape) being monitored. The current state of water storage across the country is estimated at 64.3% compared with 74.6% storage level at the same time last year.
Several metropolitan municipalities have already announced water restrictions in order to curb the increased demand and over-usage of water by households and industries in recent months, in their efforts to deal with the impact of the heat wave. The government expects the El Nino phenomenon to continue at least until March 2016. To ensure the development and implementation of a coherent and integrated government response, relevant sector Ministries have come together.
The Department of Water and Sanitation has put aside more than R400 million for water tankering, borehole drilling and rehabilitation, water conservation and demand management and water source augmentations. Stats SA notes that the agricultural sector contracted by 17% quarter on quarter largely due to drought conditions in 2015. The damage to the sector has been severe and has the following results: stress on the grain stocks, crop failure and death of livestock in the four declared provinces, the loss of income and the inability to service loans where the farming enterprises suffered losses due to drought and the threat to household food security on farms and in remote rural communities.
The Departments of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries and Rural Development and Land Reform have introduced various interventions and reallocated resources to mitigate the effects of drought on farmers, farm workers and rural communities.
The Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs has written to all the mayors in the country to take action to respond to the situation. These include the introduction of water restrictions; monitoring adherence to water restrictions and application of penalties where necessary; prioritisation of the repair of water leaks, and the promotion of water-efficient technologies such as low-flush toilet cisterns, rainwater harvesting, and use of grey water for irrigation.
Opposition parties are critical of the government’s response. They argue that it does not understand the seriousness of the current drought gripping the country as it does not appreciate the value of water. They point out the failure to improve broken and crippling water infrastructure at municipalities countrywide. The government disagrees with this assertion and maintains that it has put together short, medium and long-term plans to address the problem. It also continues to urge South Africans to change their behaviour and use water responsibly.
The full report is available here.