Government on water scarcity and drought

13 Nov 2015

Colleague Ministers
Executive Mayors
Directors-General
City Managers
Members of the media
Ladies and gentlemen

Thank you for joining us this morning for the briefing on drought. Today’s media briefing takes place against the backdrop of drought conditions which set in with effect from about 2013. As observed in 2015, the increasing severity of this drought is impacting negatively on the country in both social and economic terms. 

South Africa is a water scarce country and 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. Despite all 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.

Our current state of water storage across the country is estimated at 64.3% of our normal full supply compared with our 74.6% storage level last year at the same time, so generally there is a downward trend, which is indicative of a hydrological and meteorological drought. These factors are taken into account in the operating models of all the state-owned dams to determine when it would be appropriate to implement restrictions. Currently KwaZulu-Natal is sitting at 57%. There are four dams which are at critical levels, namely Hazelmere Dam, Goedetrouw Dam, Hluhluwe Dam and Klipfontein Dam, where mandatory restrictions are currently in place. The current abnormal heatwave has increased evaporation rates significantly and this is one of the reasons for the fall off in the storage capacity levels. In order to minimise the evaporation losses from the Vaal River system, we retain storage in the Sterkfontein dam for as long as possible. The dam is currently at 96% full.

Fellow South Africans, this excessive heat wave, which is the result of El Nino, has grossly exacerbated the dry and arid conditions that we are currently experiencing and is putting a strain on the already stretched water resources across all provinces.  Several metropolitan municipalities have already announced water restrictions in order to curb the increased demand and over-usage of water by households and industries in recent months, in their efforts to deal with the impact of the heat wave.

Drought is a natural phenomenon which cannot be prevented. However, as government, we are fully conscious of the responsibility we bear to mitigate its economic and social impact on the country and its people, taking into account that water is a scarce resource in South Africa. To date, water managers have successfully supported a strong economy and ongoing socio-economic growth. Therefore, our key focus is on continuing to work with provinces and all stakeholders to mitigate the impact of drought on households in both urban and rural communities.

We expect the El Nino phenomenon to continue at least until March 2016, which means that the current hot and dry conditions are likely to persist for the next six months. We can expect some rainfall over the interior of South Africa, but it is likely to be below normal rainfall figures. The South African Weather Service is keeping a constant watch on the state of the El Nino phenomenon, and expects that it will weaken over the winter months of 2016.

To ensure the development and implementation of a coherent and integrated government response, relevant sector Ministries, convened by Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, came together to constitute “Team South Africa” to deal with the persisting drought and the consequent water scarcity.

The country experienced the signs of a new round of El Nino, with the onset of the current drought in the North West province in 2013, which was subsequently declared as a disaster on 29 July in the same year.  Over the ensuing 24 months, due to a of  lack rainfall in various parts of the country, KwaZulu-Natal declared drought as a disaster on 12 December 2014. Due to the deteriorating drought conditions this year, the North West declared again on 24 July 2015, followed by the Free State on 4 September 2015, Limpopo on 4 November 2015. Mpumalanga is at an advanced stage of preparation for the declaration of drought as a disaster, which will be completed soon.  

The remaining provinces that have not yet declared drought disaster have been struggling in the last 24 months to deal with the negative effects of drought. To date, the challenge continues to escalate, depending on the dynamics and conditions in each province.

The water sector is currently facing considerable challenges, which include climate change, lack of rainfall, ageing and poor maintenance of infrastructure in some areas, water leaks, water pollution, illegal water connections, alien and invasive species, heat wave, etc. The current El Nino is perhaps the worst in history.

In response to the situation, “Team South Africa” has put together the following plans to mitigate the impact of the prevailing conditions:

Department of Water and Sanitation has taken the following measures to mitigate against the impact of the current drought:

  • R 352,6 million initially and an additional R 96, 6 million set aside to intensify and mitigate the effects of drought in KZN
  • The resources as allocated have been utilised for the following:
    • Water tankering: purchased forty-five 18 000 litre water tankers for use in the distribution of water to affected areas
    • Borehole drilling and rehabilitation
    • Water conservation and demand management
    • Water source augmentations

In North West, the Department has partnered with the provincial government on targeted interventions in the Madibeng and Ngaka Modiri Molema Municipalities to improve water and sanitation management and reinstate dysfunctional infrastructure. An amount of R184,2 million and R147 million has been allocated to Madibeng and Ngaka Modiri Molema respectively.

In the Free State as with the other provinces we will continue to use our existing funding vehicles such as RBIG, Municipal Water Infrastructure Grant (MWIG), WSOS, and Accelerated Community Infrastructure Programme (ACIP) to support municipalities to increase resilience in water supply. The total set aside for drought relief efforts country-wide amounts to R524 million.

The lack of water in some areas of Johannesburg and Ekurhuleni is resulting from a combination of the heat wave and the drought. Due to the heat wave and lack of rain, consumers of water are using more water than usual, particularly to water gardens in residential areas. This has resulted in an unusual spike in the demand for water, such that the demand for water is higher than the capacity of Rand Water’s water purification plants to supply water. This in turn results in a situation where Rand Water and the cities of Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni and Tshwane are unable to fill water reservoirs faster than water flows out of them. Consequently, some of the water towers in Johannesburg and Ekurhuleni are becoming depleted to the extent that the water pressure is too low to provide water to higher lying areas. Rand Water and the cities are struggling to get the water in the water towers back to an acceptable level due to the ongoing high demand for water, despite requests to residents to stop watering their gardens during the day.

Rand Water and the three metropolitan municipalities have been working closely together to develop a recovery plan for water services in Gauteng, which is now in the implementation stage. The three municipalities and Rand Water are coordinating their operations on a daily basis and a Joint Operations Centre or JOC has been formed to coordinate the recovery plan.

The recovery plan involves turning off water supply in certain areas between 7 or 8 pm in the evening and 4 or 5 am in the morning for several nights, to allow sufficient time for the water levels in the water reservoirs and water towers to recover so that water can again be supplied to the affected high lying areas. Affected residents will be informed timeously before these measures are taken. Special measures will be put in place to ensure that institutions which require water on a 24 hour basis, such as hospitals, old age homes and schools are able to continue to function while these measures are taken.

The success of the recovery plan requires the involvement of all consumers of water in Gauteng – both residents and businesses. It requires all households to play their part by adhering to the water restrictions which have been put in place by the cities. In particular, the success of the recovery plan depends on residents no longer watering their gardens during the day.

If all of us work together to implement the recovery plan, it is possible for us to reach a situation where there will no longer be large numbers of households without water by Tuesday next week.

The impact of the drought on agriculture in the country includes the following;

  • Stress on the grain stocks, particularly yellow and white maize and wheat
  • Crop failure and death of livestock in the four declared provinces
  • The loss of income and the inability to service loans where the farming enterprises suffered losses due to drought
  • The threat to household food security in the farms and remote rural communities.

The Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries introduced the following measures to mitigate the impact of drought to all small holder farmers:

  • The provision of livestock feed and alternative grazing on available state farms and R226 million has been reprioritised and allocated.
  • The drilling and equipping of additional boreholes for livestock water in the affected areas.
  • Facilitate and support the revolution of credit facilities challenges due to crop failure with IDC, Land Bank and other development financial institutions.
  • Monitor the food prices through the Food Price Monitoring Committee under the National Agricultural Council to inform appropriate measures to maintain food security.
  • Strengthen climate change adaptation programmes developed for the sector.
  • Coordinate interdepartmental food and nutrition security interventions to mitigate the effects of drought on farmworkers and rural communities.

The Department of Rural Development and Land Reform announced that livestock from worst affected regions in five provinces would be relocated to “state-owned land”, where there is still better pasture. The department is allocating almost R187-million for this drought relief intervention. In the North West the department is allocating 200 000 ha to be made  available for communal farmers and is busy doing field assessments and infrastructure needs and water assessments and possibility of establishing feedlots.

The Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs has written to all the mayors in the country to take various actions to respond to the situation. These actions include following the guidance of the Department of Water and Sanitation regarding the introduction of water restrictions and other measures to manage the situation; monitoring adherence to water restrictions and application of penalties where necessary; prioritisation of the repair of water leaks, and the promotion of water-efficient technologies such as low-flush toilet cisterns, rainwater harvesting, and use of grey water for irrigation.

Government is concerned about the impact of the water scarcity and drought to our communities, particularly households, hospitals and schools. It is for all of us in the country to take this situation very seriously.

The water sector cannot survive without the strategic partnerships by all stakeholders including communities to use water sparingly. Government calls on all sectors in our society that includes the private sector, civil society and individuals to work together for a better South Africa. We therefore call for partnerships to preserve and act to save water now in our country and plan to use our scarce water resources wisely in the medium to long term as we adapt to the impact of climate change.

I thank you

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