Published On: Fri, Dec 11th, 2015

EXCLUSIVE: Anxious measures to reduce drought’s impact on SA economy

SA ECONOMY 4JOHANNESBURG, (CAJ News) – IN the wake of fears the severe dry spell will impact on economic growth, South Africa has resorted to frantic measures to mitigate the drought.

Among these include the channeling of some R500 million (about $35,7 million) in unbudgeted funds to ease the water crises in the provinces most affected by drought.

Government has hired services of more than 1 500 unemployed youths nationwide with a view to monitor underground water leaks, which annually constitute 40 percent of the total water wastage for all urban areas.

Most of the country’s water is lost through underground leakages as a result of aging water pipes while corrosion and water pipe bursts worsened the situation.

In the midst of the drought, the outlook is dire in the continent’s most advanced economy.

Complicating the situation, the country’s economic hub, the Gauteng Province is not spared from severe drought.

This follows revelations the capacity at the major source of water supply-the Vaal Dam- has reached alarming levels.

This spells a reduction in economic activity especially in the mining and agriculture sectors. The drought comes at a time the mining sector is already battling reduced production and loss of jobs.

The unprecedented El Nino weather have worsened the already depleted water resources by 30 percent while a further decline of 13 percent is projected in the next five years.

It is feared the setback will result in massive job losses in a country that is struggling to create employment for millions of youth.

Cattle ranchers are already feeling the pinch. These farmers are reducing their livestock as a result of deteriorating pastures and the current high feed-grain prices.

The price of red meat at a retail level is expected to fall by 8 percent to 15 percent between this month (December) and January next year, as more animals are being slaughtered by farmers, leading to an oversupply of meat
in the short-term.

On average, beef and sheep prices at farm level are already marginally down by 1 percent and 2 percent respectively, with further declines expected as grazing conditions deteriorate due to a lack of rain.

Paul Makube, Senior Agricultural Economist at First National Bank, said consumers who were already struggling to provide for basic needs caused by rising food and electricity costs, should thus expect temporary relief
during the festive season.

He said the low price of meat would be further sustained in January next year due to a lower demand from cash-strapped consumers that would be cutting back on spending following the holidays and facing new expenditure
on school requirements.

Rebuilding the national herd would be as challenging, Makube said.

“Herd-building takes time – this will inevitably lead to a shortage in supply in the long term, because of a limited number of animals entering the food supply chain,” said Makube.

Analysts pointed out the economic setbacks, which this year were worsened by incessant power outages,  had dashed the hopes of  ruling African National Congress (ANC) to create 500 000 new employment opportunities
ahead of the watershed government elections set for May next year.

Nonetheless, the drought has come as a blessing in disguise to some 1 500 unemployed youths.

Speaking at a recent forum in Pretoria, Director of Water Affairs, Beason Mwaka, said the urgent nationwide recruitment of these to undergo training to detect water leaks and burst pipes would alleviate effects of the

The summit in Pretoria is one of several platforms that have been held recently to explore measures to minimize the impact of drought.

He told CAJ News that R500 million had been channelled towards drought-mitigation programmes in provinces comprising Free State KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, North West and Northern Cape Provinces.

There have been proposals to transfer water from the Tugela in KwaZulu Natal to the Vaal Dam.

However, this would cost the government a whopping R1 billion, a development Mwaka said was unbudgeted for.

He argued while drought was not man-made crisis, it was high time Africa started using it sparing.

“It is not about human life alone. Even nature depends heavily on water. Demand for water is growing due to lifestyle not industry,” said Mwaka.

He pointed out South Africa was a semi-arid to arid country with a highly variable climate with constrained freshwater resources.

“These limited water resources are affected by weather extremes imposed by climate variability and change. However, South Africa’s climate is also characterised by periods of wet spells also called La Niña (years of
receiving above-normal rainfall).

“The Department of Water Affairs is building more dams in order to store more water during good rainy seasons. One thing for sure, we cannot stop drought from happening, but we can mitigate effects of drought by using
water sparingly as well as addressing water leaks,” said Mwaka.

Mwaka cited a scenario between 2009 and 2011 when the Southern Cape Region was devastated by a severe drought while the rest of the country received above normal rainfall.

He said numerous researches in collaboration with universities were being carried nationwide and across the Sub Sahara Africa with the view to mitigate effects of droughts.

Water availability in South Africa varies greatly in space and time.

While the West is dry with rainfall only during the summer and as low as 100mm, the East and Southeast receive rainfall throughout the year with an average of up to 1 000mm.

Total annual surface runoff is estimated at 43 to 48 km3, depending on the source.

The Chief Executive Officer for Water Research Commission (WRC), Dhesigan Naidoo, said the Southern African country must implement a long-term, national drought policy and strategy that would mitigate the risk of
occurrence of severe droughts in future.

“With, or, without drought, the country, mainly towns and cities must learn to use water sparingly.  Proven methods of saving water include water recycling, limit watering gardens for more than an hour, planting of drought resistant crops by farmers as well as well as diversifying water resource instead of relying heavily on rainwater,” said Naidoo.

He said intelligence strategies of using water were required citing science and technology innovations as the best solution to address drought and acute water shortage across the Sub Saharan Africa.

“For example, an individual flashes an average of 9 litres of quality water in the bathroom. This calls for dry sanitation solutions that are smart and not water-wasting,” Naidoo said.

He said 30-to-40 per cent of quality water could be saved when innovation was embraced.

He challenged farmers, especially in the Sub Sahara Africa, to implement better irrigation schemes such as drip irrigation as opposed to flooding.

“When stronger biotechnology crop resistant crops are grown, water wastage will be minimized,” Naidoo added.

Experts, among them, Professor Roland Schulze from University of KwaZulu Natal, Dr Mathieu Rouault of the University of Cape Town as well as Dr Nebo Jovanovic of Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR),
concurred innovations were required to mitigate droughts across Africa.

The experts said if water was not used sparingly, particularly in the areas of agriculture and mining as well as a failure to adopt recycling innovations, food and water security would always remain under threat.

They said technological innovations, supported by skilled personnel, would boost early information systems before droughts struck.

However, a church elder who later spoke to CAJ News after the drought mitigation conference in Pretoria dismissed the notion that adopting technological innovations was the solution to the crisis, arguing current
weather trends were prophesied in the Bible.

“Whether governments implement or come up with new technologies or innovations to counter droughts, such prophetic things are bound to happen. This is part of disasters prophesied alongside incurable diseases
such as HIV/AIDS, unending wars and marriage breakdowns, which are all happening at alarming rates,” said the Apostolic Faith Mission church leader.

– CAJ News

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