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Drought and the impending water crisis

07.11.12

00437341In a recent address, our Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs, Mrs Edna Molewa, highlighted what has been labelled ‘a looming water crisis’ in South Africa. This trend has partly been attributed to water scarcity, a situation worsened by pollution, land degradation and climate change. Recent media reports have focused on this impending water shortage and suggest that over 200 million people in southern Africa may be at risk of water shortages by the year 2050. Although water availability is naturally variable in southern Africa, climate change has caused great uncertainty in rainfall events.

IMPACTS OF A WATER CRISIS

A shortage of water can result in, amongst other negative impacts, water restrictions and sharp increases in the cost of potable water. Recent weather forecasts for South Africa from the South African Weather Services, show that the majority of the country is set to experience below-average rainfall in the 2012/2013 summer months. Additionally, the Department of Water Affairs has warned that the possibility of drought within the Vaal River Catchment increases with every passing year. In the face of a serious drought, the Vaal Dam may drop to levels that could have serious consequences on the environment and the approximately 20 million people that rely on the Vaal Dam for water.

During September, one of Rand Water’s weather stations situated near Zwartkopjes recorded a total rainfall of 35.6 mm. The Department of Water Affairs recorded the actual rainfall for the month of September in Gauteng as approximately 70 mm. This variation in amounts highlights the concerns that climate change will bring about highly erratic and scattered rainfall events. The incidence of localised, delayed rainfall events and prolonged periods of drought is also called a ‘green drought’ referring to the fact that some parts of a region may appear lush and green while others are dry.

FACTS AND FIGURES ABOUT WATER IN SOUTH AFRICA

  • Of the 223 river ecosystems in our country, 60% of these are threatened and 25% are critically endangered.
  • The government supplies all households in South Africa with six kilolitres of water free every month.
  • A typical drought cycle in the Vaal system can take up to 8.5 years to complete. However, it is almost 17 years since the last major drought.
  • South Africa is expected to experience an increase in the frequency of severe weather events such as tornadoes, droughts and floods.
  • Only 66% of the natural river flow (mean annual run-off) still remains in South Africa’s rivers.
  • Close to 3% of the country’s mean annual run-off that should be entering streams and rivers, is intercepted and taken up by alien vegetation.
  • Water requirements for basic human needs only represents 5% of the total water requirement for South Africa.
  • South Africa purchases almost 25% of its total water supply from Lesotho. 
  • The government has allocated over R 75 billion over the next three years to address water infrastructure, quality management, resource planning and support to local government (http://www.infrastructurene.ws/2012/04/26/south-africas-next-greatest-challenge/).
  • There are 569 dams in South Africa (see http://www.dwaf.gov.za/Hydrology/).

WATER WISE TIPS FOR THE MONTH

  • The first flush of rose flowers will be coming to an end soon. Cut off the spent flowers, as this will reduce the ‘energy’ the plant would put into producing the seed and will move this ‘energy’ into the production of flowers for the next flush.
  • During summer, specifically from November to February, do not water your garden during the day, specifically from 10:00 to 14:00 as this is the hottest time of the day.
  • Replace leaking toilet washers. A single toilet can leak as much as 4 000 litres a month.

Dry river bed