Climate-Proofing Agriculture Must Take Centre Stage in African Policy

KIGALI, Rwanda, Jun 14 2016 (IPS) – After over a year of extreme weather changes across the world, causing destruction to homes and lives, 2015-16 El Niño has now come to an end.

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This recent El Niño – probably the strongest on record along with the along with those in 1997-1998 and 1982-83– has yet again shown us just how vulnerable we, let alone the poorest of the poor, are to dramatic changes in the climate and other extreme weather events.

Across southern Africa El Niño has led to the extreme drought affecting this year’s crop. Worst affected by poor rains are Malawi, where almost three million people are facing hunger, and Madagascar and Zimbabwe, where last year’s harvest was reduced by half compared to the previous year because of substantial crop failure.

However, El Niño is not the only manifestation of climate change. Mean temperatures across Africa are expected to rise faster than the global average, possibly reaching as high as 3°C to 6°C greater than pre-industrial levels, and rainfall will change, almost invariably for the worst.

In the face of this, African governments are under more pressure than ever to boost productivity and accelerate growth in order to meet the food demands of a rapidly expanding population and a growing middle class. To achieve this exact challenge, African Union nations signed the Malabo Declaration in 2014, committing themselves to double agricultural productivity and end hunger by 2025.

However, according to a new briefing paper out today from the Montpellier Panel, the agricultural growth and food security goals as set out by the Malabo Declaration have underemphasised the risk that climate change will pose to food and nutrition security and the livelihoods of smallholder farmers. The Montpellier Panel concludes that food security and agricultural development policies in Africa will fail if they are not climate-smart.

Smallholder farmers will require more support than ever to withstand the challenges and threats posed by climate change while at the same time enabling them to continue to improve their livelihoods and help achieve an agricultural transformation. In this process it will be important that governments do not fail to mainstream smallholder resilience across their policies and strategies, to ensure that agriculture continues to thrive, despite the increasing number and intensity of droughts, heat waves or flash floods.

The Montpellier Panel argues that climate-smart agriculture, which serves the triple purpose of increasing production, adapting to climate change and reducing agriculture-related greenhouse gas emissions, needs to be integrated into countries’ National Agriculture Investment Plans and become a more explicit part of the implementation of the Malabo Declaration.

Across Africa we are starting to see signs of progress to remove some of the barriers to implementing successful climate change strategies at national and local levels.  These projects and agriculture interventions are scalable and provide important lessons for strengthening political leadership, triggering technological innovations, improving risk mitigation and above all building the capacity of a next generation of agricultural scientists, farmers and agriculture entrepreneurs. The Montpellier Panel has outlined several strategies that have shown particular success.

Building a Knowledge Economy

A “knowledge economy” improves the scientific capacities of both individuals and institutions, supported by financial incentives and better infrastructure. A good example is the “Global Change System Analysis, Research and Training” (START) programme, that promotes research-driven capacity building to advance knowledge on global environmental change across 26 countries in Africa.

START provides research grants and fellowships, facilitates multi-stakeholder dialogues and develops curricula. This opens up opportunities for scientists and development professionals, young people and policy makers to enhance their understanding of the threats posed by climate change.

Sustainably intensifying agriculture

Agriculture production that will simultaneously improve food security and natural resources such as soil and water quality will be key for African countries to achieve the goal of doubling agriculture productivity by 2025. Adoption of Sustainable Intensification (SI) practices in combination has the potential to increase agricultural production while improving soil fertility, reducing GHG emissions and environmental degradation and making smallholders more resilient to climate change or other weather stresses and shocks.

Drip irrigation technologies such as bucket drip kits help deliver water to crops effectively with far less effort than hand-watering and for a minimal cost compared to irrigation. In Kenya, through the support of the Kenya Agriculture Research Institute, the use of the drip kit is spreading rapidly and farmers reported profits of US$80-200 with a single bucket kit, depending on the type of vegetable.

Providing climate information services

Risk mitigation tools, such as providing reliable climate information services, insurance policies that pay out to farmers following extreme climate events and social safety net programmes that pay vulnerable households to contribute to public works can boost community resilience. Since 2011 the CGIAR’s Research Programme on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), the Senegalese National Meteorological Agency and the the Union des Radios Associatives et Communautaires du Sénégal, an association of 82 community-based radio stations, have been collaborating to develop climate information services that benefit smallholder farmers.

A pilot project was implemented in Kaffrine and by 2015, the project had scaled-up to the rest of the country. Four different types of CI form the basis of advice provided to farmers through SMS and radio: seasonal, 10-day, daily and instant weather forecasts, that allow farmers to adjust their farming practices. In 2014, over 740,000 farm households across Senegal benefitted from these services.

Now is the time to act

While international and continental processes such as the Sustainable Development Goals, COP21 and the Malabo Declaration are crucial for aligning core development objectives and goals, there is often a disconnect between the levels of commitment and implementation on the ground. Now is an opportune time to act. Governments inevitably have many concurrent and often conflicting commitments and hence require clear goals that chart a way forward to deliver on the Malabo Declaration.

The 15 success stories discussed in the Montpellier Panel’s briefing paper highlight just some examples that help Africa’s agriculture thrive. As the backbone of African economies, accounting for as much as 40% of total export earnings and employing 60 – 90% of the labour force, agriculture is the sector that will accelerate growth and transform Africa’s economies.

With the targets of the Malabo Declaration aimed at 2025 – five years before the SDGs – Africa can now seize the moment and lead the way on the shared agenda of sustainable agricultural development and green economic growth.

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SADC’s regional situation update on El Niño-induced drought

The SADC region is experiencing a devastating drought episode associated with the 2015/2016 El Niño event which is negatively impacting on livelihoods and quality of lives. The region experienced a delayed onset of the 2015/2016, rainfall season, followed by erratic rains. Analysis of rainfall performance shows that the October to December 2015 period, which represents the first half of the cropping season, was the driest in more than 35 years in several southern parts of the region. During the same period, higher than average temperatures were consistently experienced across the region. These dry conditions mostly affected Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

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Following the dry conditions from the beginning of the season in October 2015, heavy rains set in across most parts of the region for close to 30 days, between 21 FebruarySADC Regional Situation Update 15 May 2016
while in northern Botswana, parts of southern Angola, northern South Africa, southern Zambia and western Zimbabwe, rainfall was close to twice the normal amount. Despite this improvement in rainfall, water availability for hydro-power generation for Zambia and Zimbabwe is still below normal. Most areas received above-normal rainfall during this period. The rains received helped to increase the amount of water available for human and livestock use, as well as improving pasture conditions. These rains were, however, too late for crops which had already wilted and died or were not even planted due to earlier dry conditions.

Although national, regional and international forecasts had by September 2015 predicted poor rainfall performance and high temperatures for the 2015/16 season, the severity of the drought conditions has been such that it has overwhelmed the disaster preparedness capacity in most of the affected Member States.

The 2015/16 El Niño follows closely on a previous poor

Rainfall: 21 Feb – 20 Mar 2016 expressed as a percent rainfall season. The effect of the previous drier-than-normal of average rainfall for the same period.
season for most SADC countries resulted in reduced crop production, increased use of stored food reserves and savings used to buy food and non-food (such as seed and other agricultural inputs) commodities, reduced water levels, reduced pasture availability and increased strain on the revenue of most governments that were in the process of recovering from the earlier effects of global financial crises. The situation was further compounded by the fall in prices of commodities on the global market, an aspect that has reduced the revenue base of most governments, thereby increasing the strain on the revenue of most governments and their capacity to support socio protection programmes for the people affected by the drought. Cereal supply and demand analysis for the 2015/16 marketing year showed that the region recorded an overall cereal deficit of about 7.8 million tonnes. The 2015 regional food security and vulnerability assessments showed that the number of food insecure people during the 2015/16 marketing year was more than 27 million people, which is about 9% of SADC’s total population.

The already serious problem of acute and chronic malnutrition in the region is expected to worsen, increasing risks of mortality of young children and the elderly. Steep food price hikes are expected in the 2016/17 marketing year due to poor grain production and the depreciation of the regional currencies against the US dollars. This El Niño event has seriously crippled agricultural production including crops and livestock; and dried up many water sources and reservoirs, with serious impacts not only on agricultural but energy supplies. Increased incidences of diseases are likely due to water shortages, lack of safe drinking water, and inadequate sanitation and poor hygiene practices; all which contribute to higher risk of preventable waterborne diseases. Additionally, the drought heightens financial constraints caused by food price increases that have recently been recorded. Furthermore, the production and supply of seeds, fertilizers and other inputs have also been adversely affected. These factors will constrain recovery in the medium term for the affected communities and thereby negatively impacting on agricultural plans for the next cropping season. The welfare of millions of households is in serious jeopardy due to the current crippling food shortages and future recovery input shortages.

The number of people at risk of food insecurity during the 2015/16 marketing year is estimated at 1.25 million, which represents a 65.8 per cent increase compared to the previous marketing year. The most affected provinces are Cunene, Huila, Benguela, Kwanza Sul, Namibe and Cuando Cubango. The figures are expected to continue rising as we move through 2016. Crop losses are expected to be as high as 75 per cent in parts of the south.

The country is battling an outbreak of foot and mouth disease, which is adding to livestock deaths. A yellow fever outbreak is also proving difficult to contain. Since the yellow fever outbreak began in December 2015, 1,975 suspected cases of yellow fever (618 laboratory confirmed) and 258 deaths have been reported, the majority of them in the capital, Luanda, and in 2 other provinces, Huambo and Huila. Amid concerns that the virus will spread to other urban areas and to neighboring countries, a large-scale vaccination campaign was launched in February 2016 and has so far reached almost 7 million people.

Coordination and Response
An inter-ministerial Drought Emergency Commission has been established, led by the Ministry of Planning, to support emergency efforts. To strengthen the international cooperating partners’ humanitarian coordination, the United Nations has established an Emergency Country Team to complement Government’s coordination efforts
The Ministry of Agriculture is planning to conduct a quick assessment of the situation that will provide additional details of the progress of the season so far

Botswana: Most parts of the country received below average rainfall since the season started in October 2015. Normal to above normal rainfall amounts received in central and western parts of Botswana in December helped to reduce water deficits and to improve vegetation conditions in some areas. However, many of the eastern areas, which include the primary crop growing areas of the country, received below normal rainfall. Some of the areas have not been planted due to lack of rains.

This has negatively impacted on crop production prospects with permanent wilting reported in some parts of the country. A few exceptions are in the northern and north-western parts of the country where slightly above average rainfall was received during the last two months. The poor rainfall conditions have also affected the availability of drinking water and pasture for livestock. This has resulted in poor livestock condition with reports of livestock deaths in some areas. In response to the drought impacts on livestock, the Ministry of Agriculture has increased subsidies on certain livestock feeds to 50 per cent.

The number of vulnerable people is estimated at over 30,000 or about 4 per cent higher than last season, according to the Botswana Vulnerability Assessment Committee. A national drought assessment is currently underway, earlier than usual this year, due to the severity of the current drought. This is expected to provide more details about the performance of the season across the country.

Lesotho: one of the worst affected countries in the region, with reports showing that the 2015/16 agricultural season has failed. For the May/June harvest period, 80 per cent of farmers are not expecting to harvest anything significant. Rain was received during the early months of 2016, which helped improve the water crisis that had been crippling the country. The Government of Lesotho on 22 December 2015 declared a state of drought emergency. The Government’s declaration was accompanied by a jointly developed response plan (ICPs and Government) as well as an appeal for international support. The response plan is asking for a total of US$40.3million.

The results of a multi-stakeholder Rapid Drought Assessment conducted in January 2016 show that about 534,502 (more than 1 in 4) people are at risk of food insecurity until June 2016, with the situation expected to worsen in the second half of the year and the beginning of 2017 due to poor 2016 harvest. Poor and very poor households are experiencing a 44per cent decline in their food and cash income compared to normal conditions. The current food and cash income is 31% below the survival threshold. This is exacerbated by the decrease in the number of people receiving remittances from South Africa mainly due to recent retrenchments, thereby affecting their ability to buy enough food. Despite recent rains, increasing difficulties are being experienced with regards to accessing water with rationing, increased waiting times and water purchasing widely reported. The elderly, people living with HIV and AIDS and/or TB, the disabled and the sick were indicated as the most affected by water shortages. Protection concerns were also highlighted in the report, including use of negative coping mechanisms and sexual and genderbased violence.

Coordination and Response
The UN and NGOs are working jointly with the Government of Lesotho to complete further assessments. A market assessment is being conducted to complement the rapid assessment. This exercise will further inform the programming of emergency response activities and targeting. An Inter-Ministerial Task Force has been established to support the coordination efforts by the Disaster Management Authority. To further strengthen the humanitarian coordination, the United Nations, together with NGOs has established a Humanitarian Country Team (HCT).

Madagascar: The south-western parts of the country are experiencing El Niño -induced drought conditions. Low rainfall and high temperatures in January intensified dryness in the southern half of Madagascar, especially over Androy, Anosy and Atsimo Andrefana regions. The drought, which has affected these regions since October 2015, ha negatively impacted on crops and livestock, water availability, food prices, livelihoods and nutritional wellbeing. Households food and nutrition situation has significantly deteriorated.
More than one million people in these regions are food insecure, of which 665,000 are severely affected. This represents 80 per cent of the population in the seven most affected districts of Amboasary, Ambovombe, Tsihombe, Bekily, Beloha, Betioky and Ampanihy. The communities’ coping strategies are weakened by successive years of shocks. They are adopting negative coping strategies such as the sale of assets (including livestock), increasing wood collection activities; reducing the number of meals per day; withdrawing children from schools; and migrating to other areas of the country. The deterioration of households’ food security affects the nutritional status of children under five. In February 2016, global acute malnutrition (GAM) levels reached an average of 8 per cent within this group. GAM rates were higher than the critical threshold of 10 percent in some areas. The district of Tsihombe is the most affected, with an average of 14 percent of children under five presenting signs of acute malnutrition.

Malawi: On 12 April 2016, the President of Malawi declared a State of National Disaster due to prolonged dry spells during the 2015/16 season, with an estimated 2.8 million people being food insecure. Second round crop estimates show an expected 1.07 million tonnes national maize deficit, nearly five times the registered deficit last year. This implies that the number of people in need of relief food assistance will significantly increase over the next 18 months.

A pre-harvest MVAC assessment (released in March) found that the country’s three regions experienced dry spells due to effects of the El Niño, with the central and southern regions hit harder than the north. At the same time, heavy rains continue in the northern region, and could last until June, exacerbating the current flooding situation. At least seven displacement camps have been established with more than 35,000 flood-affected people.

Food insecurity continues to aggravate Malawi’s fragile nutrition situation, with vulnerable groups and people on ART/TB treatment feeling the heavy consequences of drought. Admissions to health clinics for moderate acute malnutrition have risen four-fold since January. A nutrition survey planned for April/June will further inform the nutrition response. The annual MVAC (a rural vulnerability and food security assessment) will be conducted from early May.

The country is also experiencing a cholera outbreak that started in December 2015. According to the Ministry of Health, as of 31 March 2016, a cumulative total of 1,073 cholera cases were registered in 10 out of Malawi’s 28 districts. Twenty-one deaths have been recorded, representing a case fatality rate of 1.96%, which is above the acceptable rate of 1%, as per WHO standards.

Coordination and Response
The Government of Malawi is leading the response, through the Department of Disaster Management Affairs (DoDMA), with support from humanitarian partners, including NGOs, the UN System and donors. The cluster system has been activated, and inter-cluster meetings are taking place to ensure proper cross-sector coordination. The Office of the Vice President, through DoDMA, convenes meetings of the Humanitarian Response Committee to monitor the implementation progress of the food insecurity response. In addition, DoDMA is facilitating the finalization of the 2015/16 National Contingency Plan as well as district level contingency plan reviews and coordination capacity strengthening.

Mozambique: Throughout much of the season, Mozambique has experienced well below average rainfall in the southern and central parts of the country, while above average rainfall has been received over the northern parts. Most parts of the country received good rains briefly in late January, as well as in late February through April. These late rains, while providing some moisture that contributed to pasture re-growth were insufficient to eliminate the prevailing rainfall deficits. Vegetation conditions remain well below average in most of the south.

On 1 April 2016, the Technical Secretariat for Food Security and Nutrition (SETSAN) released the results of the latest food and nutrition security assessment which indicated that 1.5 million people are acutely food insecure and in need of humanitarian assistance in the Central (Zambezia, Manica, Sofala and Tete provinces) and Southern regions (Gaza, Inhambane and Maputo provinces). An estimated 191,000 children are expected to be severely acutely malnourished in the next 12 months and GAM rates for children under 5 are 15.3% and 15.5 % in Sofala and Tete provinces respectively. Very few households have any cereal reserves for consumption and as a result, there has been a sharp reduction in the quality of diet between November 2015 and March 2016. Prices of the staple food, maize, have increased by almost 100 per cent in markets when compared to this time last year. The nutritional status of children is worrisome, particularly in Sofala, Tete and Manica provinces; there are very high GAM rates (over 15 per cent in two provinces) with additional aggravating factors (weak health systems and water and sanitation challenges). Increasingly, children, particularly girls, are dropping out of school to help fetch water and food or because families are moving to areas with better conditions. In view of this alarming situation, the Government of Mozambique declared on 12 April a 90-day institutional red alert, the highest level of national emergency preparedness, for the central and southern areas of the country. This measure aims to intensify and expand response actions, disburse additional Government funds planned for emergency situations and mobilize resources through cooperating partners.

Coordination and Response
The response actions to the current drought in the country are in Maputo, Gaza, Inhambane, Sofala and Tete provinces. The response activities include food assistance, drilling/rehabilitation of water boreholes and in some cases water trucking to affected communities.
The Government of Mozambique through the National Institute for Disaster Management (INGC) is leading the coordination of drought response in the affected provinces. The coordination meetings of the Technical Council for Disaster Management (CTGC) are being held at least once a week to continue monitoring the drought situation, response and gaps. The ICPs’ Humanitarian Country Team continues to ensure coordination among the partners responding to the situation in support of the Government.

Namibia: Poor rainfall in the first half of the rainfall season resulted in delays in planting and a lack of pasture and drinking water for both animals and humans. Namibia experienced an extended delay in the effective onset of rains, with little to no rainfall being received in October and November. In many areas, the onset was delayed by between 20 to 40 days. This extended dryness, combined with very high temperatures, and a poor 2014/2015 rainfall season, resulted in significant negative impact on grazing lands and water resources for both humans and livestock. Veld fires were also report and these contributed to a reduction in the availability of grazing. The situation improved in December as good rains were received throughout much of Namibia, while January was much drier, especially in the northern-central and north-western areas. The northeastern and central parts of the country received normal to above-normal rainfall. As a result of the mixed rainfall pattern, the vegetation is at mixed growth stages with the eastern half of the country showing above-normal vegetation conditions, and below-average conditions in the western half.

The number of people at risk of food insecurity is estimated at 370,316. The cabinet approved about N$350 million (US$22.5m) to support various kinds of interventions

South Africa: Rainfall improved in many parts of the country in January and continued through February to mid-March, after several months of very poor rainfall had prevented many farmers from planting. The protracted delays in the rains resulted in large reductions in the planted area. The rains were insufficient to eliminate rainfall deficits since October, and seasonal rainfall totals are still well below average in most parts of the country. Commercial maize production in 2016 is estimated at 7.44 million MT, 25 per cent down from 9.96 million MT in 2015, and about 40% below the 5-year average, while sorghum production remained almost the same as last year at about 0.12 million MT.

Demand and supply analysis for the 2016/17 marketing year shows that the country will face cereal deficits in maize and wheat of 1.61 million tonnes and 1.55 million tonnes respectively. Sorghum is expected to record a small surplus of 23.7 thousand tons. These deficits will be more than offset by net imports.

The Government declared seven out of the country’s nine provinces as drought-related disaster areas in November 2015, and set aside ZAR 236 million (approximately US$14.5 million) to alleviate the impacts of the drought.

Commercial beef slaughters have increased significantly due to culling influenced in part by the drought. Droughtrelated cattle deaths have also been reported. The country’s dams were reportedly at 55 per cent of full supply capacity by end of January, 27 per cent lower than what was observed at the same time last year.

South Africa continues to export maize to neighboring countries such as Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Lesotho, Botswana, Swaziland and Namibia, which is projected to amount to about 820,000 tonnes in the 2015/16 marketing year.

Swaziland: The El Niño-induced drought has seriously affected food and nutrition security and water availability across Swaziland. The Swaziland Drought Rapid Assessment Report estimates maize production of 33,000 tonnes, a 64 per cent reduction compared with last year’s season, which itself was below average. Results confirm that 320,000 people, about 30 per cent of the total population, are in need of immediate food assistance. The hardest-hit regions are Lubombo and Shiselweni. An estimated 64,000 cattle have already perished in the drought, threatening lives and livelihoods. Swaziland has a very high prevalence of HIV/AIDS: 26 per cent among the adult population (15-49 years). A comprehensive joint health and nutrition rapid assessment was conducted in late March and results show that lack of access to food is reducing adherence to anti-retroviral treatment (ART).

The next main harvest season is not until April 2017, meaning food and nutrition indicators can only be expected to deteriorate over the coming months, which is of great concern given the already high rates of chronic malnutrition (according to the Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS) 2014 data, about 25.5 per cent of the children under age 5 are stunted in growth).

To address the impacts of the drought, the Government of Swaziland declared a National Drought Emergency on 18 February 2016. Following the declaration, Government published the National Emergency Response Mitigation and Adaptation Plan (NERMAP), which is requesting a total of US$80.5m. The comprehensive multi-sectoral response plan was developed by Government, with support from partners. US$16.5m was pledged by Government for both immediate and longer term interventions. The Government has requested the international community to assist though the provision of financial and technical support.

Coordination and Response
The Government of Swaziland has committed approximately US$7 million to meet the immediate needs of the most affected, which will cover around 25 per cent of health and nutrition needs and 20 per cent of rural WASH needs. The United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) approved US$3.14 million to commence immediate, life-saving humanitarian interventions. This funding will enable the World Food Programme and UNICEF to provide food and emergency water and sanitation services to 95,000 of the most vulnerable people.

Following the development of NERMAP, Government with partners is finalizing the development of a humanitarian needs overview (HNO), based on NERMAP, prioritizing critical humanitarian needs. A multi-sectoral drought rapid assessment was completed in February 2016 and results are being incorporated into the response. In addition, the UN is supporting the Ministry of Health to conduct a more comprehensive assessment on the health and nutrition situation, including the capacity of health facilities to respond to the drought emergency.

Government convenes an inter-sectoral coordination forum to deliberate on critical issues and provide strategic direction for the response. There are various sector coordination meetings, led by the Government, co-chaired by the UN. The forums provide technical support for the coordination mechanism. A UN Technical Working Group for Drought has been established and is actively coordinating UN agencies involved in the response, arranged by sectors (Food Security and Agriculture, Health and Nutrition, WASH, Education, and Protection).

Tanzania: Tanzania has been receiving good rainfall in most areas since the onset of the season. Crops and pasture were generally reported to be in good condition. High rainfall resulted in flooding in some eastern and central districts, causing damage to crops such as rice and maize. Pastures and grazing lands were reported to be in good condition, and water supply for livestock is sufficient. Livestock were also reported to be in good condition.

The country is experiencing a cholera outbreak that started in August 2015. As of 14
April, 20,810 cases have been reported countrywide, with 327 deaths, a case fatality rate of 1.6 per cent. The Ministry of health is leading the response, supported by ICPs.

Zambia: Following delayed onset of rains, most areas in the southern half of the country received below average rains and experienced delays in planting. This continued until the 3rd dekad of January when the situation improved. In several areas, the rains arrived in time to allow resuscitation of crops that had been affected by the preceding dryness. The rains continued consistently into late March (mid-April in some areas), resulting in average to good crop conditions in many areas. Recent crop estimates released in May put the expected 2015/16 maize production at 2.87 million MT, up 9.5% from last year’s production, and representing a surplus of 634,000 MT. The country has, however, currently banned export of maize.

A multi-sectoral impact and needs assessment is expected to be published by the Zambia Vulnerability Assessment Committee (ZVAC) by the end of May.

The country is currently experiencing a cholera outbreak. As of 1 April, 5 districts were affected with 567 cumulative cases and 6 deaths reported. An analysis of the cases shows that the spread of the outbreak is mainly due to unsafe drinking water and fecal contamination. The affected areas are high densely populated residential areas served by unimproved pit latrines and mostly shallow wells. The Ministry of Health (MoH) is leading the cholera response using existing coordination structures for emergency preparedness and response. The frequency of coordination meetings is weekly at the national level and daily at the provincial and district levels. The National Coordination Committee is chaired by the Minister or Deputy Minister of Health. UNICEF and WHO are represented in all the subcommittees with high level representation from all relevant ministries, departments and other partners (Red Cross, Centre for Disease Control and University of Zambia).

The combination of a poor 2015 harvest, an extremely dry early-mid season (October to mid-February) and hotter-than-average conditions has led to a scenario of extensive crop failure and food insecurity in Zimbabwe. With some 2.8 million people, more than a quarter of the rural population, already estimated to be food insecure, the number is projected to rise significantly over the next year, with the main harvest period in May expected to bring minimal relief. The provinces with the highest prevalence of food insecurity are Matabeleland North (43%), Midlands (33%), Masvingo (32%), Mashonaland West (30%) and Matabeleland South (28%). Several interventions are underway to assist the affected households.

These projections prompted the Government to declare a state of national drought disaster on 4 February 2016, and subsequently issued an international appeal of $1.5 billion.

Zimbabwe: The Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee (ZimVAC) Rapid Assessment revealed a global acute malnutrition (GAM) rate of 5.7%, a level not reached in the country in 15 years. Nationally, 7,058 children with severe acute malnutrition (SAM) have been admitted to therapeutic treatment programmes between December 2015 and May 2016. Almost 17 per cent (1,162) of these admissions took place in emergency response districts where active nutrition screening is taking place. In these same districts the number of children admitted for SAM treatment has more than doubled compared to the same period last year.

An estimated 62,000 drought affected children, women and men were provided with access to safe water to prevent water and sanitation related diseases through the rehabilitation of piped water schemes and boreholes. There has been a significant decline in new typhoid cases comparing weekly epidemiological data. To date, 1, 206 typhoid cases have been reported, out of these 75 have been laboratory confirmed, with 5 typhoid related deaths reported.

Coordination and Response
Government established a Cabinet Committee on Emergency Response to the El Niño -induced Drought Disaster chaired by Vice President. This Cabinet Committee has been mandated to coordinate responses to meet immediate and medium-term needs of the current drought. The current response has been coordinated by coordination platforms, led by Government Ministries, supported by the United Nations. In order to provide strategic guidance, a Humanitarian Country Team was established in 2015 and an inter-sectoral coordination group established in April 2016 to coordinate between sectors and to provide a platform for inter-sectoral discussion. Sectoral meetings are ongoing among the 5 sectors identified as critical to this response i.e Food Security and Agriculture, Health, WASH, Education and Protection. An Early recovery Sectoral Working Groups has been established.
Regional Coordination and Response

• The SADC Council of Ministers meeting of 15 – 16 March 2016 approved:

 that the Region should declare a Regional Drought Disaster and prepare an Appeal of Assistance from International Cooperating Partners; and

 the establishment of a Regional Response Team at the SADC Secretariat to coordinate a regional response in close collaboration with Member States.

• The SADC Secretariat has since established a Regional Response Team with the main objective of effectively and efficiently coordinating the responses to the negative effects of the 2015/16 El Niño phenomenon in the region.

• The Regional Response Team is composed of staff from SADC Secretariat, Regional based United Nations’ Agencies and other International Cooperating Partners.

• While the Regional Drought Disaster Declaration is yet to be made, the Regional Response Team has already started compiling data and statistics for a possible Regional Appeal document. Meanwhile, the Team will continue to publish El-Nino Drought Situation Reports like the current one on a monthly basis.

• Member States are currently conducting their national vulnerability assessments for the 2016/17 marketing year which are expected to be completed by early June 2016. Information from these assessments will form the basis for a possible Regional Appeal.

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Drought-hit South Africa partners with Iran to build desalination plants

South Africa has partnered with Iran to develop desalination plants along all coastal communities to boost water supplies, the water minister said on Wednesday, as the worst drought in living memory dries dams.

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South Africa last year record its lowest annual rainfall levels since comprehensive records began in 1904 as an El Nino-driven drought rips through the region, putting millions at risk of food shortage.

“Now with the partnership that we have entered into through the binational commission between South Africa and Iran we want to go full steam,” Nomvula Mokonyane told reporters.

She said the first investment meeting with Iran, where President Jacob Zuma visited last month, takes place next month and that there were no indicative costs at this stage.

The largest desalination plant in South Africa, which converts salty seawater to drinkable water, is situated in Mossel Bay along the Western Cape where it helped supply water to state oil company PetroSA’s gas-to-fuel refinery.

“We have been over-dependent on surface water,” Mokonyane said, adding that government would focus on all coastal municipalities in three provinces, including the Western Cape and KwaZulu Natal.

South Africa’s weather woes have been largely attributed to a powerful El Nino system, a warming of ocean surface temperatures in the eastern and central Pacific that occurs every few years with global consequences.

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Disturbing SA water supply report

DURBAN: South Africa will be short of reliable water supplies every year for the next 20 years – even if the country manages to build all newly planned dams on time and also curb water demand in several cities.

This is the disturbing conclusion of a comprehensive study which revises nationwide water supply calculations made in a similar study two years ago.

Part of a joint project involving the Institute for Security Studies, the Water Research Commission and the University of Denver, the study suggests that even if the second phase of the Lesotho Highlands water project and other new dams are commissioned on schedule, there will still not be reliable water supply to meet growing demand as more people move from rural areas into cities.

Titled Parched Prospects II, the study finds that South Africa appears to be overexploiting available water resources and there will continue to be a gap between water demand and reliable supply from now to the end of the modelling period in 2035.

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“Overexploitation occurs when more water is withdrawn from a water source than is sustainable… If a river has a yield of 1km3/year at a 98 percent assurance of supply this means that one cubic kilometre can be extracted from this river for 98 out of 100 years.

“If there is above average rainfall in a given year, more than 1km3 of water may be extracted without immediate consequence. But when withdrawals exceed reliable supply, the system is being overexploited and becomes more vulnerable – this is especially a problem when there is below average rainfall.”

The study notes that as of 2012, South Africa had enjoyed 16 consecutive years of above average rainfall, but this was unlikely to continue – as shown by the current critical drought.

It finds that, in a country ranked as the 30th driest in the world, water use is still considerably above the world average.

Water use in the Vaal River system was calculated at about 330 litres per person per day, well above the international average of 173 litres per person per day.

The study recognises that per capita water use statistics can be misleading, given that most water in South Africa is used for irrigating cash crops and food crops, and that several water-intensive industries receive water from the municipal supply system.

At a national level, 2 percent of total water supplies were used to cool coal-fired power plants.

“Although this figure may not seem like much at the national level, power-generation water requirements often occur in catchment areas that are moderately or severely constrained,” said main report author Steve Hedden, a researcher at the Centre for International Futures in Denver, Colorado.

Hedden said the latest study revised forecasts made in 2014 and now included a detailed analysis of more recent government-commissioned water reconciliation studies for Johannesburg/Pretoria, Durban, Richards Bay, Cape Town and other large urban areas.

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The study suggests that agriculture remains the largest water user (about 57 percent), followed by municipalities (36 percent) and industries (about 7 percent).

By 2035, municipal water use was expected to increase by almost 8 percent of current total use as more people moved from rural to urban areas.

Updated studies suggested that overall national water demand would increase to almost 19km3 per year by 2035, whereas reliable supplies would only amount to 17.8km3.

Even with construction of new dams and extra water conservation measures, there would still be a gap between demand and reliable supply every year until 2035. While costly new infrastructure projects were often necessary “there are additional ways to reconcile supply and demand”.

As a result, the authors recommend that more attention is focused on heavier exploitation of groundwater, recycling industrial and municipal waste water and reducing leaks. Currently only 54 percent of municipal waste water is treated and nearly 25 percent of waste-water treatment works are in a “critical state”.

At a national level, 36.8 percent of municipal water was not paid for, with an estimated 25 percent loss from leaking municipal pipes infrastructure.

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Source: iol

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Durban to deliver emergency water

Water authorities are setting up schemes to supply water to the three million residents who are faced with shortages, thanks to the ongoing drought.

The City of Durban has moved to the next level of drought, with city water officials rolling out contingency measures for residents who do not have access to water.

Its three million residents are already living with water restrictions, thanks to South Africa’s worst drought in 112-years. KwaZulu-Natal has had several droughts since 2012, but declared a provincial drought disaster in late 2014.

In that time, the three major dams that supply Durban and the rest of the province have seen their levels drop to as low as 30%.

The contingency measures have already seen water tanks installed around the city and an increase in water tankers so that people can access water if they do not have any. Officials at Umgeni Water, the local utility, say further measures will include four-litre bags of water being distributed to people who have the least access to water.

Other South African cities are in the early stages of this, with places such as Bloemfontein imposing severe water restrictions and fines for wastage.

Research released by the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis this week said this sort of urban water crunch would become the norm this century, if nothing was done to lower consumption and use water more efficiently.

The research – “Pressure building on global water supply” – was published in the journal Geoscientific Model Development.

It warned: “Our current water use habits increase the risk of being unable to maintain sustainable food production and economic development for the future generation.”

South Africa’s droughts are cyclical and the current one has been exacerbated by El Niño, but the 31st-driest country in the world has targeted water waste as a big problem for the future. The Water Research Council, a quasi-government research body, estimates that a third of all water is lost in water systems.

Fixing this is part of the national response to the ongoing drought.

In the long term, South Africa’s environment department predicts that droughts will become more frequent and more intense. Rainfall might increase, but it will only do so in the eastern parts of the country. This rain will also come in heavier and more damaging spells, which makes storing the water more difficult.

Source: mg

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South Africa: Drought Leads to Failed Crops, Water Shortages

The main street of this dusty South African town is lined with empty buckets, marking each residents’ place in line as they wait for their daily water ration to be brought in by unreliable trucks.

Keeping watch over her buckets, Pulaleng Chakela sleeps in a wheelbarrow on the side of the road to save her spot in the line. The 30-year-old wraps herself in a little blanket as temperatures drop overnight, and asks a male friend to sit nearby for safety.

“If I don’t wait here all night, the water will be finished,” she said.

A flatbed truck carrying three 5,000-liter tanks arrived midmorning when temperatures had already reached 40° C (104° F). Murmurs of relief are soon replaced by angry shouts as residents learn they have been further rationed from filling four buckets to just two. In the chaos, Chakela slips two extra buckets in the line. The situation is so unfair that she feels no guilt, she said.

Disaster areas

Chakela is joined by dozens more residents of Senekal, a small town in South Africa’s rural Free State province, one of four regions declared disaster areas as a drought dries up South Africa’s heartland – along with much of eastern and southern Africa – bringing with it failed crops and acute water shortages.

The drought is a sign of a changing climate the whole region must prepare for, say experts. The El Nino weather phenomenon has returned to southern Africa, marked by delayed rainfall and unusually high temperatures, according to the World Food Program.

The environmental effects of El Nino are expected to last until at least 2017, affecting the food security of 29 million people due to poor harvests, said the WFP report.

The conditions in Senekal should serve as a warning to the rest of region to prepare themselves for the dry years ahead, said Tshepiso Ramakarane, manager of the Setsoto municipality, where Senekal is located.

“For the next 10 to 15 years, the situation is likely to get worse,” he warned, adding that only days of sustained rainfall can solve the town’s woes, despite the occasional scattered shower. “We are in the middle of a crisis.”

Other towns in the district have even less water, but Senekal is in worse shape because of its poor infrastructure and distance from the nearest dam, pointing up the vulnerability of many places in the country to drought due to poor sanitation and running water systems.

Dealing with water shortage

The local municipality has now been forced to buy well water from surrounding farms at 1 cent a liter, distributing about 50 liters of water to each of Senekal’s 8,000 households at no cost.

Those who can’t wait up to ten hours in a line, however, have been forced to buy water directly from the farmers at premium prices.

Makhantsi Khantsi, a single mother of four who works as a security guard, said the farmers are charging her nearly seven times as much as they make the municipality pay and that’s on top of the $10 she has to shell out for the 10 kilometer (6 mile) cab ride.

For laundry, the options are even more grim, and Khantsi and a dozen others use the stagnant, algae-ridden water collected in an abandoned sewage treatment tank to wash their clothes.

“When you are desperate, what must you do?” asks Refiloe Mangati, as she washes her children’s school shirts by hand, scrubbing with too much detergent and rinsing quickly in the hope the algae – and the tadpoles – won’t stain them.

On the farms surrounding the town, hot gusts of wind pick up dust on empty fields where there should be crops.

“We have not planted a single seed,” said Borrie Erasmus, who grew up on the Biddulphsberg farm, about 20 kilometers (12 miles) outside Senekal. This is the first time in the five decades he has worked his family farm that he has missed the spring planting season.

Financial toll

If it rains for a few days before autumn, he may still plant sunflowers, but that won’t offset the more than $60,000 Erasmus has already lost this season.

“One bad crop can put you back three or four years and now we have no crops,” said Erasmus. Even if the weather returns to normal, it will still take at least five years for farmers to pay off the loans they’ve had to take out to survive.

South Africans, already facing a weak currency, will soon feel the effect of rising food prices as the country may have to import corn, Agricultural Minister Senzeni Zokwana warned on Monday.

Over the Free State, the few clouds gathering in the distance may bring some temporary relief, but farmers here say they need more certain intervention.

“We’re hardy farmers, we’re used to getting by without much, but these are such extraordinary circumstances that there is a need for government to help,” said Erasmus.

Source: voanews

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Who is using all the water in South Africa?

While Gauteng has briefly enjoyed some much needed rainfall (and hail), the water crisis in the country is expected to continue into 2016.

South Africa has experienced little to no rainfall since the beginning of the year, and as a result, drought conditions are being experienced across the country.

To date, five provinces are severely affected by the drought and have been declared disaster areas, with KwaZulu Natal the worst affected. Other provinces include Free State, Limpopo, Mpumalanga and North West.

According to the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWA), South Africa experienced its worst drought in 1983 with the national average dam level at 34.0%.

“Currently our national average dam level is sitting at 63.3%. This means that our regional water supply dams and schemes remain water secure sitting with positive water balance,” it said.

South Africa receives an annual rainfall of 492 millimetres, close to half of the global average of 985 millimetres. It is therefore classified as a water-stressed nation.

To compound matters, the country’s water distribution is split between east and west – 43% of South Africa’s total rainfall occurs on only 13% of the land according to the DWA.

The DWA forecast in the mid-2000s that water demand would outstrip supply in Gauteng by 2013 – and the rest of the country by 2025 – but little has been done by industry and individuals to curb water wastage.


Water levels in South Africa 2015

Who’s using all the water

There are six major water use sectors, namely, irrigation, urban use, rural use, mining and bulk industrial, power generation, and afforestation.

Studies done by the department show that the vast majority of water in South Africa is used in agriculture, with over 60% of all available water going into the sector for irrigation.

As much as 30% of water in SA is for urban and rural use (including domestic use), while the rest is split among industrial, power generation and afforestation uses.

Sector %
Irrigation 59.0%
Urban use 25.1%
Mining and Bulk Industrial use 5.7%
Rural use 4.3%
Afforestation 3.7%
Power Generation 2.2%

About 12% of all water is used for domestic (home) use, in the country.

Urbanisation is a major problem – putting pressure on water systems, while  growing cities leads to deforestation and an increase of pollution, which ruins water quality, too.

While the profiles for rural and urban home use of water are very different, flushing toilets is the biggest water user in both areas.

Domestic Use Rural Urban
Toilets 73% 37%
Bath and Shower 19% 32%
Washing Machine N/A 17%
Other (Cooking, Cleaning, Washing Dishes, Drinking, etc) 8% 14%

Looking at homes with gardens, up to 46% of all water is used up taking care of it.

Homes with Gardens %
Gardening 46%
Other (See above) 54%

Source: businesstech

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South Africa in midst of ‘epic drought’

South Africa is facing its worst drought since 1982, with more than 2.7 million households facing water shortages across the country, the government has said.

Lennox Mabaso, spokesperson for the local government department in KwaZulu-Natal, told Al Jazeera that the drought, concentrated in provinces of Free State and KwaZulu-Natal, was beginning to impact the livelihoods and drain the economy.

“The dams are at an all-time low. This is an epic drought and [the] government is doing the best it can do. As you can imagine, it requires a lot of resources, and it’s impacting everyone, rich and poor,” Mabaso said.

The ministry declared the KwaZulu-Natal and Free State provinces as disaster areas and warned that some 6,500 rural communities across four provinces face water shortages.

South Africa’s capital, Pretoria, has already implemented water restrictions.

On Wednesday, Reuters news agency, quoting an official, said the drought-hit northern Mpumalanga and Limpopo provinces would be declared disaster areas for agriculture in the coming days, a claim a spokesperson for the Department of Water and Sanitation would not confirm.

“The provinces of Limpopo and the North-West are currently under observation,” Mlimandlela Ndamase, ministerial spokesperson for the Department of Water and Sanitation, said to Al Jazeera.

The government has already allocated $26m to KwaZulu-Natal in a bid to mitigate the impact of the drought that has been blamed on the El Nino weather pattern. El Nino is expected to impact other parts of Southern Africa as well.

Wandile Sihlobo, an economist at Grain SA, told Al Jazeera that summer crops (soybeans, maize, sugarcane) and livestock farming are likely to be hardest hit by the drought, and consumers were likely to see food prices elevated for some time to come.

“The concern now is about the next crop. It’s the optimum time to plant, but it’s still too dry, and with the failure earlier in the year, farmers are under further strain,” Sihlobo said.

Meanwhile, residents of a South African coastal town hard hit by dwindling rainfall said their drinking water was contaminated with sea water.

Citizens of Port Shepstone in KwaZulu-Natal province lined up with buckets for fresh water distributed by officials as the drought increased the salt content of rivers, the South Coast Herald newspaper reported on Tuesday.

Mabaso admitted that a part of the town’s water had been contaminated but said the issue had been blown out of proportion.

“It appears that sea water had encroached the dam that was close to the sea and the water has been contaminated, it affects one community in Port Shepstone, and our scientists are working on it,” Mabaso said.

Earlier in the week, Minister of Water and Sanitation Nomvula Mokonyane said in a press release that the South African government was drawing water from neighbouring Lesotho to augment the country’s resources, especially in Gauteng, the economic hub of the country.

“Engagements are under way to allow us to access water from the Zambezi via Zimbabwe to further guarantee supply in the northern parts of our country,” Mokonyane said.

On Monday, it was reported that Rand Water, the country’s main water supplier, might be forced to introduce “water restrictions” in Gauteng province if there was no rainfall soon.

“People have always thought that South Africa is a water secure country. But people need to respect water and use it sparingly. The times have changed,” Mabaso said.

Source: aljazeera

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South Africa’s great thirst has begun

Eskom’s electricity woes have hastened the failure of water infrastructure around the country.

For many South Africans, the water crisis is already here. For others, research and projections show, it is only a matter of time – and perhaps not a great deal of time.

Thanks to load-shedding, and a shortage of water when electricity is restricted, the thirsty future could arrive in major urban centres as soon as this summer.

Early last year, four people died in violent protests over a lack of water in the Mothotlung township outside Brits in North West. In the glare of national publicity, water was quickly restored.

But on Monday, almost exactly a year later, taps in the township again ran dry. When the water flowed again on Tuesday, it was brown.

“I am scared to drink water from the tap. I only use it for bathing and washing clothes. I do buy water from the tuck shop when I have money,” said 72-year-old widow Johana Ngwato.

“My daughter is six years old and, whenever she takes the water, she experiences diarrhoea,” said Ngwato’s niece, Baile Masango.

Grahamstown march

In 2013, a two-week water outage in Grahamstown saw academics, in their formal caps and gowns, march in lockstep on the city council offices, with township residents following, brandishing placards.

Rhodes University, the lifeblood of the town, issued a stark warning that garnered national attention: without water it would have to close its doors.

On Monday night, the water supply went off again without warning in a section of the township overlooking Grahamstown, leaving Tembinkosi Mhlakaza to wonder at what point he should go to fetch water for his grandmother, and how far he would have to go to get it.

“She’s nearly 80,” Mhlakaza said. “Our water went out last night, and it may come on this afternoon. But if it doesn’t, I have to make a plan for her.”

Supply failures

In 2014, the residents of Thlolong outside Kestell in the Free State were promised that a new dam would solve their water woes. On Wednesday, a resident, who did not want to be named for fear of reprisal, said neither the dam nor emergency water supplies were anywhere to be seen.

“We are thirsty. It has been eight years now that we live like this. The tankers that the municipality use to bring us water are not here this week; we didn’t see them last week. We don’t know what we must do now.”

In Johannesburg, some suburbs were warned this week to expect weekend water outages because of scheduled maintenance at a pumping station – the same station that left some of the same suburbs, and some hospitals, without water for days last year. The maintenance plan was later postponed.

These are no longer isolated cases. According to government officials, about a third of all towns are in some form of serious water distress. The department of water considers one in 10 municipal water systems to be totally dysfunctional, and, of those that are working, a quarter experiences regular service disruptions of more than two days at a time.

In provinces such as Mpumalanga, there are more households that have regular water interruptions than those with a steady supply.

Municipal incompetence

In Mothotlung and Grahamstown, the water supply issues can be linked directly to municipal incompetence, a lack of engineering skills and the failure of management. Neither area has a shortage of untreated water, but they are going thirsty because of a lack of maintenance and proper financial administration and planning.

These problems show no signs of abating, as bitter experience shows.

“If you give me the money and people, I can fix it up for good,” said a Grahamstown city engineer, who is not authorised to speak to the media. “Without money and people, I’ll keep it running as long as I can. Just don’t ask me to fix it quickly when it really all breaks down; then you can keep your money.”

In Johannesburg, water shortages in 2014 were caused by electricity failure to a key pumping station, which in turn was linked to cable theft.

With Eskom warning that there will be regular load-shedding for the rest of the summer, and unable to deliver consistent power for several more years, water engineers are trying to work out how to manage shortages.

Meagre reserve margins

In many areas, water systems have either little or very meagre reserve margins. Electricity outages at pumps that move raw water could leave treatment stations without water. And, without treated water to move, pumps responsible for distribution would be idle when they do get electricity.

These two factors – local incompetence and a national electricity shortage – will have the biggest impact on what, if anything, comes out of the taps for the next several years.

But, within the next decade, two other fundamental issues are likely to make themselves felt – problems that no amount of local governing excellence or electricity will solve.

For one, there is simply not enough water left to go around.

“The situation currently in South Africa is that we have 98% of the water in the country being considered fully allocated. This means that my child and your child that is being born tomorrow has 2% of water for use going into the future,” then water minister Edna Molewa said of water usage rights in 2013.

Eskom first

Eskom has a 99.5% assurance of receiving water, meaning the power utility gets water before any other sector of the economy.

The 2030 Water Resources Group, of which the department is a member, has calculated that, by 2030, the demand for water will exceed supply by 17%. In most of South Africa’s catchments, demand is already outstripping supply, and it is only by piping water from places such as Lesotho that there is enough for now.

Climate change projections are that, by mid-century, reduced rainfall could lower the amount of available water by 10%. Rainfall is expected to come in shorter, but more violent, spells. The projections say this will make collection in dams and underground difficult.

Exactly how much water is available is a complex calculation, with many variables and estimates to consider, and it is seasonal, to boot.

In lay terms, the easy water is already being harvested. Major South African rivers have been dammed to maximum capacity – there are nearly 4400 registered dams – and some would argue beyond their capacity; river systems require what is sometimes referred to as an “ecological reserve”, a minimum amount of water to continue functioning and be useful.

Barriers to supply

Water systems that could handle new dams are both far from population centres and limited in their ability to supply water.

“Many parts of the country have either reached or are fast approaching the point at which all of the financially viable freshwater resources are fully utilised and where building new dams will not address the challenges,” the department of water affairs said in its 2013 strategy report.

That leaves South Africa more dependent than ever on water pumped from Lesotho, where a new phase of the Highlands water scheme will come on line in 2020.

But all the run-off from Lesotho must inevitably flow through South Africa to the ocean, making even that water-rich country a finite resource for South Africans.

An increase in global temperatures is expected to increase evaporation from dams, which potentially makes building more an exercise in running on the spot rather than getting ahead.

More groundwater can be exploited, but only by so much. Desalination is possible, but it requires large amounts of electricity and is very expensive.

Little to go around

That all leaves little untreated water to go around, even without the expected increases in municipal use, because of a growing population, agricultural use, which is increasing the amount of land under irrigation and is a mainstay of plans to improve both employment and food security, and industrial use.

“Increases in water supply cannot match the expected increase in demand without additional and far-reaching interventions,” Steve Hedden and Jakkie Cilliers, of the Institute for Security Studies, wrote in a September 2014 paper. “The water crisis cannot be solved through engineering alone.”

The second structural problem is an unfolding ecological ­disaster, which is making available water more difficult to treat and, eventually and without intervention, will make direct use of untreated water impossible.

“Water ecosystems are not in a healthy state,” according to the department of water affairs’ National Water Resource Strategy 2013. “Of the 233 river ecosystem types, 60% are threatened, with 25% of these critically endangered … Of 792 wetland ecosystems, 65% have been identified as threatened, and 48% as critically endangered.”

Human waste

The sources of pollution in fresh water include industrial run-off and acid mine drainage, but human waste is a larger and more immediately dangerous component, ironically because of the large amount of water South Africans use.

“Most waste water treatment facilities are under stress because so much more waste water needs to be treated,” said Gunnar Sigge, head of Stellenbosch University’s department of food science and one of those involved in a seminal – and alarming – 2012 study for the Water Research Commission.

“Some of the biggest problems [in the water system] are caused by treatment works that aren’t functioning.”

Jo Barnes, a specialist in community health risks at Stellenbosch, said a chronic lack of investment in treatment plants meant conditions that should not exist, such as diarrhoea, were killing people.

“The whole environment where people live is contaminated. This is a massive, massive problem, but one that people will not talk about. There are just a few angry people trying to raise awareness.”

The 2012 study, carried out in all the provinces and over a three-to-four year period, found that the amount of faecal matter in many water systems made it unsafe for irrigation, because eating raw produce watered with it could cause illness.

Informal settlements

Informal settlements both contribute to the pollution and are affected by it, and some draw directly on groundwater. According to the department of human settlements, the number of informal settlements rose from 300 in 1994 to about 2 700 today, housing 1.3-million families.

In Mothotlung, Serube Lukhelo is afraid to give her one-year-old baby water that could cause diarrhoea, so she spends what money she has on bottled water.

In Grahamstown’s Joza location, Nomfundo Bentele is considering putting up a sign at her hair salon to let customers know whether she has water or not.

In Johannesburg residents and hospitals wait to hear when water from their taps will stop running.

Everywhere else the clock is ticking.


Source: Mail & Guardian

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