National water security

The prolonged lower-than-normal rainfall since the beginning of 2015 has caused drought conditions across the country. The lower rainfall is caused by El Niño, a global weather pattern that denies moisture to the sub-Saharan region.

According to the South African Weather Bureau, the dry weather will probably persist through the remainder of this year and into March 2016, a period during which the country normally gets most of its rain.

South Africa is a water scarce country. It ranks as one of the 30 driest countries in the world with an average rainfall of about 40% less than the annual world average rainfall. South Africa has an average annual rainfall of less than 500 mm, while that of the world is about 850 mm. On top of this, between 37% and 42% of potable water is unaccounted for. This water is lost through leaks, wastage and illegal connections. The international average water usage per day is 173 litres, while South Africans use 61,8% more water than the world average.

The situation has led to water shortages in a number of public water supply schemes and dams. By the middle of November 2015, disaster droughts have been declared in KwaZulu-Natal, Free State, North West and Limpopo. Mpumalanga was in the final stages of preparing to declare a disaster drought.

Water storage

The bulk of South Africa’s economic nodes and national growth points are served by major dams and large bulk infrastructure networks. The majority of these systems were still in a positive water balance with the national average dam storage measured at 64.3% of the normal full supply, although much lower than the 74.6% storage level at the same time in 2014.

In affected drought areas such as KwaZulu-Natal, the average dam storage of the large schemes is at 57%. Four dams which are at critical levels, namely Hazelmere Dam, Goedetrouw Dam, Hluhluwe Dam and Klipfontein Dam, where mandatory restrictions are currently in place. Moreover, the drought currently affects 173 of the 1 628 water supply schemes nationally, serving approximately 2.7million households or 18% of the national population.

An estimated 6 500 stand-alone rural communities are currently experiencing water shortages. These are mostly situated in KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga, Limpopo and North West provinces. This number could increase to over 11 000 rural communities as the dry period extends and local water resources get depleted.

At a media briefing on 13 November 2015, plans were announced by the departments of water and sanitation; agriculture, forestry and fisheries; rural development and land reform; and cooperative governance and traditional affairs.

To deal with the current situation, the Department of Water and Sanitation has committed R352,6 million to the initial drought intervention projects. A further R96,620 million was made available for interim tankering and additional interventions in Kwazulu-Natal. Significant additional funding is still needed for a second drought declaration which is being led by the Province Disaster Management Unit of the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs. 

The water shortages and lower than normal rainfall also greatly affects the agriculture sector. Crops have been diversely affected in several provinces, while pastures has become increasingly reduced, leading to livestock condition’s deteriorating.

The drier than normal situation is also affecting neighbouring countries. Poor households in the southern Zimbabwe, Malawi and parts of Madagascar are already experiencing acute food insecurity.

Water saving tips

In and around the house/business

  • Turn the tap off between washing your face, brushing your teeth or shaving.
  • Taking a five-minute shower a day, instead of a bath, will use a third of the water used bathing in a bath tub, saving up to 400 litres a week.
  • Showering can use up to 20 litres of water per minute.
  • If you prefer to bath, do not fill up the bath tub.
  • Taking a bath can use between 80 and 150 litres of water per bath.
  • Use low-flow showerheads, dual-flush toilet mechanisms and water-efficient washing machines.
  • Kettles should not be filled to the brim but with just enough water for your needs. This will reduce your electricity bill too.
  • Do not overfill containers like cooking pots, as this may result in using more energy to heat the water.
  • Reducing the toilet flush volume alone can save 20% of total water consumption. This can be done by putting a 2-litre cold drink bottle, filled with water and a little sand to add weight, into the cistern.
  • Fix a leaking toilet otherwise it can waste up to 100 000 litres of water in one year.
  • Avoid flushing the toilet unnecessarily. Dispose of tissues, insects and other waste in the trash rather than the toilet. Every time you flush the toilet, 12 litres of water is used.
  • Use “grey water” — used water from baths, washing machines and other safe sources to flush your toilet.
  • Do not over-fill or excessively backwash your swimming pool.
  • Use a bucket rather than a hose to wash your car. If you have to use a hose, use a sprayer that can be turned off in-between spraying the car. Using a garden hose could use as much as 30 litres of water per minute.
  • Do not pour paint and chemicals down the drain.
  • Farmers must ensure that they keep toxic insecticides away from water sources and streams.
  • Factories should take care of how they discharge mercury and other heavy metals into waste water.
  • People living in rural areas should be careful not to use the river or river bank as a toilet.

In the garden

  • Always water your plants during the early morning hours or in the evening, when temperatures are cooler.
  • Between 10:00 and 15:00 one can lose up to 90% of water to evaporation.
  • Every time you boil an egg, save the cooled water for your houseplants. They will benefit from the nutrients released from the shell.
  • Focus on indigenous and non-water-consumptive alien plants (but not invasive alien plants).
  • Group plants according to their water needs and to mulch around them.
  • Water gardens less frequently, but water well. Using a garden hose could use as much as 30 litres of water per minute.
  • Remove invasive alien plants on your property.
  • Roof water can also be profitably stored in tanks, for watering gardens.
  • Use “grey water” - used water from baths, washing machines and other safe sources - to water your garden.

Water tips booklets to download


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