A drought is a period of below-average rainfall (see FAQ #2 for more details). The severity of the drought depends on how far below average the rainfall is, for how long the dry period is sustained, and to what extent the available water reaches the groundwater. The World Meteorological Organisation describes drought as ‘the world’s most destructive natural hazard’. Droughts cause the deaths and displacement of more people than cyclones, floods and earthquakes combined, yet effective drought management policies are missing in most parts of the world and, some say, in South Africa.
2.Are there different types of drought?
Yes, there are 3 types of drought that meteorologists discuss. A meteorological drought occurs after a prolonged period of below average rainfall (usually less than 70%), creating natural shortages of available water. An agricultural drought occurs when there is not enough moisture to support average crop production and grass production. This usually occurs during hot periods with low precipitation, but it can also occur during periods of average precipitation when soil conditions or agricultural techniques require extra water. A hydrological drought occurs when water reserves in aquifers, lakes, and reservoirs fall below a statistical average. This can occur during average precipitation if human demand for water is high, which lowers the water reserves. Often, drought emergencies include aspects of all three types of drought.
3.What causes drought?
Droughts are a major feature of the climate of South Africa. South Africa’s location at the southern tip of Africa between cold and warm sea currents and its unique topography creates a variable climate over space and time. Because of these characteristics, the country is considered to have one of the most variable river flow regimes in the world, and drought is one manifestation of this variability. The country is also naturally water scarce. South Africa’s average annual rainfall of 495 mm falls well below the world average of 860 mm a year. Further, the distribution of rain varies widely across the country – generally reducing from east to west, with 65% of the country receiving less than 500 mm of rain a year. The country’s semi-arid nature results in much water being lost to evaporation, and in many areas evaporation from the surface exceeds the average annual rainfall. It is estimated that less than 9% of the precipitation that falls on the ground eventually finds its way into South Africa’s river systems. This natural water scarcity makes South Africa particularly vulnerable to drought. Vulnerable communities are usually hardest hit as water for domestic use and rain-fed subsistence crops dry up and food prices escalate.
4.How have other countries addressed drought?
The links page provides resources that show experiences with drought in other parts of the world. In general, methods used to combat and address drought have included using reclaimed wastewater for agriculture and other practices (this is highly developed in Australia for example), addressing evaporation from reservoirs using covers such as large black balls (Los Angeles Department of Water and Power Read more...)
5.Can drought affect the water level of groundwater ?
Groundwater, which is found in aquifers below the surface of the Earth, is one of South Africa's most important natural resources. Groundwater is used to provide a large portion of the Nation's population with drinking water, it provides business and industries water for their purposes, and is used extensively for irrigation. The level groundwater that supplies a well does not always stay the same. The height of the groundwater depends on the amount of water that is pumped out as well as the amount of water recharging the groundwater. During drought, there is an extreme defecit of rainfall, which often leads to more water being pumped than being sent to recharge the groundwater. As a result, droughts often lower the level of groundwater, which means that even those who use groundwater can be affected by drought.
6.Does a shortage of rain mean that a drought will occur?
A shortage of rain does not necessarily lead to drought, but it can contribute to the development of drought. If rainfall is low, but the evapotranspiration rate is also low, a drought may be avoided. The rate of evapotranspiration is affected by sunlight, humidity, temperature, and wind. When a shortage of rainfall occurs in conjunction with a high evapotranspiration rate, severe drought can develop.
Rainfall in some provinces has been below normal for the entire 2014/2015 year (October 2014-September 2015). This season was the third-driest for South Africa as a whole since the early 1930s, when the country was hit by a historic drought in the midst of the Great Depression (Reuters Africa, 2010: Read more...). The severity this year has been aggravated by El Nino, a Pacific Ocean weather pattern which decreases moisture in the sub-Saharan region and causes other extreme weather patterns.
2.What is the government doing to improve the situation?
Detail was given by the Water and Sanitation Minister Mokonyane in a media statement on 1 November 2015. The DWS has committed R353 million to initial drought intervention projects, including drilling boreholes, upgrading infrastructure, capturing rainwater, and investigating desalination plants for treating seawater. An additional R97 million has been set aside for water tanking and other interventions in KwaZulu-Natal. Key projects include work on bulk infrastructure by constructing the Tugela Bulk Water Supply Scheme, which is expected to be operational in 2016. Additionally, half a billion rand are scheduled to be invested to raise the Hazelmere Dam. Statements have been issued to increase public awareness of the situation to encourage water conservation. Government-imposed water restrictions have also taken place in some areas and are being promised in other areas.
3.Are there water restrictions due to the drought?
Water restrictions have been imposed in some places in South Africa, and further restrictions are constantly being added. Keep up-to-date with the Water Restrictions page of this site, which is updated as information is made available.
4.Which areas are most affected by the drought?
Five provinces in South Africa have been declared disaster zones, including KwaZulu-Natal, Free State, North West, Limpopo, and Mpumalanga. In addition, some areas of Eastern Cape, Northern Cape, and Western Cape are feeling the effects of the drought. Rural communities are particularly affected by the drought. In a recent media statement, Water and Sanitation Minister, Mokonyane noted: “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.” The drought also exacerbates the economy in South Africa, which has direct effects on all residents, the poor in particular.
5.What does it mean for areas to be declared “disaster areas” with regards to the drought?
This simply means that the drought has reached a level where water restrictions and rationing are inevitable to support the population and industry in the region. When reserves have reached a critically low point, water use must decrease to conserve what we still have.
6.What can I do to help conserve water?
You can find information on how to save water on the Water Saving Tips and Resources for Saving Water page. In general, never leave water running unnecessarily, for instance while brushing teeth, and limit watering of gardens and car-washing. Water conservation will take a concerted effort from all citizens, including domestic consumers and those in industry.