Drought-stricken region declared disaster area

Drought-stricken region declared disaster area

21 September 2009

published by www.weekendpost.co.za

South Africa —

Water-starved Eastern and Southern Cape towns have been forced to implement emergency drought relief measures in the wake of what some have called the “worst drought in living memory”, and meteorologists reveal there is slim chance of good summer rains.

This week the Eden District Municipality along the Southern Cape coast – which includes Knysna, George and Mossel Bay – appealed for R156-million in emergency drought relief from the Western Cape government.

Last week Eastern Cape Premier Noxolo Kiviet also declared much of the province a disaster area, unleashing almost R1,2-billion in relief aid.

Farmers’ organisations have warned the worsening drought could see hundreds of farm workers retrenched in the coming months, while meat prices are set to soar.

Already towns such as Adelaide, Bedford, Willowvale and Haga-Haga have run dry and rely on water brought in in giant tankers daily.

In the last week’s government gazette Kiviet declared almost the entire Eastern Cape – except for the Nelson Mandela Bay and Buffalo City municipalities – a drought disaster area. In gazetting the disaster Kiviet has made R1,84- billion available in relief funds.

The funds will also go towards aiding fire-ravaged areas of the Transkei where last week veld fires claimed at least 15 lives while engulfing homes, livestock and destroying vital grazing land.

And while Bay residents are facing a water crisis of their own with dam levels dropping 2% over the past two weeks to 56% – water restrictions will come into effect if levels plunge further to 50% – meteorologists have revealed the outlook for summer is bleak.

If Bay water reserves continue to drop at their current rate, with no significant rainfall in the city’s catchment areas, water restrictions could be in place by the end of next month. The Department of Water Affairs is also in the process of cutting the municipality’s water supply by 15% in a move which will inevitably be passed onto residents.

According to Professor Willem Landman, chief seasonal forecasting scientist with the SA Weather Service, the developing El Niño phenomenon will most likely see the region experience a significantly drier and hotter summer.

“El Niño-related drought conditions are expected to persist into the New Year over the larger part of the summer rainfall regions,” said Landman in his long-range forecast issued this week. His forecast for October to February next year predicts the Eastern and Southern Cape will experience a more than 50% chance of above-average temperatures and a more than 40% chance of below-average rainfall.

The SA Weather Service’s Drought Monitoring Desk shows the region to be the biggest area nationwide to have received below-average rainfall since September 2007.

DA agriculture spokesman and MPL Veliswa Mvenya said she had been inundated with requests for drought relief from the region’s residents.

Some farmers, who have been forced to sell off livestock in the wake of worsening conditions, say the drought is the worst in living memory to hit the entire region at once as previous droughts were more localised.

“We have resorted to feeding livestock because there simply is no grazing available for them. Other farmers have sent a lot of stock up to Griqualand for better grazing,” said sixth-generation Somerset East farmer Ken Brown.

Brown said despite an annual average rainfall of up to 850mm, so far just 150mm had fallen on his farm.

Agri East Cape president Cerneels Pietersen said already the association had drilled 80 emergency boreholes for farmers.

Pietersen said a problem with the emergency drought relief was that it didn’t cater for some of the worst-hit farmers in the extreme west of the province towards Joubertina and the Langkloof.

“When I visited one area the farmers had used up all their (personal pooled) funds on feeding their livestock.”

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