The last decade, extreme droughts have increased in rate and intensity, particularly in Africa. South Africa is enormously vulnerable to these new weather extremes, as the country depends heavily on climate sensitive sectors like eco-tourism, agriculture, hydroelectricity and fisheries.
The nation is already paying the price. Some parts of South Africa has still not recovered from the renowned 2015/16 drought, which stretched far into 2018. Provinces in the grips of the extended drought, such as the Eastern Cape, are fast running out of water. Agriculture has been one of the sectors hardest hit. Crop production and livestock numbers have plummeted, as water levels dropped and diseases such as anthrax and foot and mouth thrived.
Under these circumstances, rural communities are especially vulnerable. When the main, rainfed crops fail, winter crops become critical to household food security. Yet, the dry conditions are already negatively affecting these too.
Though weather extremes are inevitable, their impact can be managed by careful planning. If not, they can escalate into disasters, with huge direct and indirect economic and social costs. Too often, this has been the case in South Africa. Due to a lack of sufficient early warning systems, the country is continuously reacting to crises, instead of putting well-planned and proactive responses in place in preparation for it.
To reduce South Africa’s vulnerability to drought, the Water Research Commission (WRC) supports measures that help protect communities impacted by drought, by bolstering coordination, planning and preparation for extreme weather events at a national level.