KwaZulu-Natal on prolonged drought

In October 2014, following a protracted period of drought, the KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (CoGTA) recommended to the Provincial Executive Council (Executive Council) to declare state of disaster in all affected regions of the province.

The most drought-stricken regions were uMkhanyakude, uThungulu, ILembe, Zululand, uMgungundlovu, Harry Gwala, uMzinyathi and uThukela. All of them had received rainfall well below normal and this had affected water levels in various catchments areas.

The preliminary assessment of the extent of damage to the Province, especially to livestock and crops, stood at above R400 million at the time. The farming community, comprising of both commercial and subsistence farmers, has been one of the hardest hit segment of our population. Some 40 000 heads of cattle that have to this end perished as a result of this drought. This bears testimony to the extent of the crisis facing the Province.

Several communities responded to water shortages with sporadic incidence of protests in some of the affected areas. The KZN provincial government appealed to the affected communities to give government time for appropriate intervention as the evolving situation on the ground, was well beyond the control of municipalities.

The formal declaration of disaster in October 2014, dramatically changed the course of events. It necessitated for a hotline to the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS), thereby unlocking additional funding for KZN from the national government.

The initial allocation of R352.4 million was first announced last year and channelled to KZN municipalities. The implementation of specific drought relief projects is ongoing in all municipalities, and they are being reimbursed by DWS on receipt of invoices.

The specific allocations per district are as follows:

KZN District

DWS Allocation


R 35 000 000.00


R 25 000 000.00


R 23 000 000.00


R 31 400 000.00


R 37 000 000.00


R 91 000 000.00


R 48 000 000.00


R 37 000 000.00

Harry Gwala

R 25 000 000.00


R 352 400 000.00

To this end the KZN CoGTA has appointed Umgeni Water and Umhlathuze Water to fast-track the procurement and distribution of water tankers to identified municipalities. These municipalities are responsible for the installation of static water tanks, spring protection, upgrade of water supply systems, boreholes, delivery of water through tankers and programme management.

Subsequently, a further amount of R91.3 million was allocated to KZN bringing the total drought relief allocation to the province to date to R443.7 million. Of this R172.2 million has been spent on the purchase of 45 water tankers and delivery of water services by municipalities.

In addition, the National Disaster Management Centre (NDMC) has allocated a further R24.6 million to KZN municipalities for the drilling of boreholes and installation of micro water supply schemes and hand pumps. The Department of Agriculture has also contributed a sum of R6 million towards drought relief, which is earmarked for animal fodder. The funding from NDMC has been allocated as follows:


R 4 750 000.00


R 2 685 000.00


R 7 980 000.00


R 9 250 000.00


R 24 665 360.00

The KZN Executive Council directed CoGTA to ensure that all allocated funds are disbursed and used timeously for the intended purpose.

Right from onset, the KZN Provincial Government adopted a multi-pronged approach to this crisis. On the one hand, the government is assisting communities that are in immediate danger through its disaster management teams and in conjunction with municipalities to whom affected residents are encouraged to apply for help as their first point of call. In the longer run, the department is exploring far-reaching measures to conserve water and convey the urgency of this to the public through targeted awareness programmes, again in conjunction with individual municipalities.

Delivery of water with tankers, drilling of boreholes and installing of water washers are but three forms of emergency assistance and a stop gap solutions to ensure that all our communities continue to have access to water until more sustainable solutions, such as large scale water harvesting and desalination, are found through adequate water infrastructure. Water tankers are provided by both DWS and District Municipalities on the basis of need and upon application. It is clear, however, that demand for them is fast outstripping the available supply.

Despite the sporadic rainfall in some parts of KZN, but mostly outside its catchment areas the remaining water resources are only expected to last several weeks. As a result of this, stringent rationing is being rolled out to the affected communities. Water restrictions have been imposed on all users of these water systems. These restrictions are increasing in intensity as the dam levels continue to drop. Despite all these efforts, only partial success has achieved in reducing the level of water consumption from the most affected dams.

The KZN provincial government anticipates that it will become necessary to increase the restriction levels as the storage levels decline and to utilise more mandatory methods to enforce these restrictions. To achieve this, we have been running targeted public awareness campaigns that have been tailor-made to the needs and circumstances of the affected municipalities. One needs to commend our local government whose representatives have, for the most part, responded to this drought speedily and efficiently. In addition to the drought awareness campaign has been running in the media since early July 2015.

The summary of government intervention and progress made thus far can be summarised as follows:

  • The purchase of water tankers (15) started at Hluhluwe on 1 October 2015;
  • The delivery of water by tanker services;
  • The installation of static water tanks (200) – 81 completed so far and additional tanks are being procured;
  • The protection, refurbishment and upgrades of springs;
  • The drilling of production boreholes to support households livestock and game;
  • Augmentation of Ntshongwe-Malobeni Scheme, supplying kwa Qondile and all the way up to Mbazwana and Mnqobokazi;
  • Shemula water scheme, repairing all the dictated leaks, to supply water all the way up to Manguzi;
  • Jozini water works upgraded to 40 mega liters to assist with the capacity to supply all the current demand;
  • The Mandlakazi scheme is being fast tracked and reticulation simultaneously built;
  • The department of agriculture has made available funds to assist with scooping of communal dams to assist with livestock;
  • Feed and other agricultural extension services are made available to support affected farmers;
  • Ezemvelo Wildlife has started carting water to the game reserves to sustain tourism activities;
  • Engineers are being deployed to assist with the rollout of water infrastructure in the districts; and
  • Desalination plants will be constructed shortly to augment water capacity in the coastal municipalities.

The impacts of climate change coupled with the current drought are demonstrating that the historical approach of supply management for our water resources is no longer sufficient. In the past, the focus used to be on examining water management policy and practices for the purpose of recommending revisions. Today, the focus must be on helping water suppliers to better manage supplies at an operational level. Equally important are the continual communication efforts to sensitise the public to the ongoing need for water conservation and demand management.

Our current approach to supply management for our water resources is based on a two-part vision. Firstly, we seek to provide proactive drought management goals to help prevent the onset of drought conditions. Secondly, we assist and support water suppliers with assessing, planning, and responding to drought conditions and coordinating internal and external communications within the framework of public awareness campaigns aimed at more effective water conservation.

Since the onset of the current drought, our province has taken a lead role in drought management, providing water supply monitoring and forecasting as well as effective communication. Water suppliers are now using the tools provided by the Provincial Government and customising their responses and actions to accommodate the major water demands in their respective areas. We have a comprehensive water management strategy focused on protecting drinking water and aquatic ecosystems, and ensuring sustainable community growth and economic development.

As devastating as this drought has been, it has also been a learning curve. Our disaster management teams are far more responsive today than ever before and our planners have become more proactive and forward-looking in the way they discharge their duties. The current drought has brought about brand new ways of thinking and solution seeking throughout the entire provincial government. Of these aspects of our response, we are immensely proud of all our officials and public entities for the hard work they have put in addressing this crisis.

For more information, contact:
Thami Ngwenya
Cell: 060 572 9881

Lennox Mabaso
Cell: 082 884 2403

Msawakhe Mayisela
Cell: 060 9664 220

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