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The great thirst

The great thirst

Eastern Capes great thirst nears catastrophic

South Africa receives an annual rainfall of 492 millimetres, whereas the rest of the world
receives 985 millimetres – meaning South Africa gets half the world’s average supply of
water. With the current drought conditions pillaging the country since 2015, water
recourses in the country are at an all-time distressing low. However, some provinces in the
country have been more affected than others, with the Eastern Cape being the worst-hit
area in the persisting drought.
With dams running on empty, towns and farmers in the Eastern Cape are left praying for
rain. The question stands what is the reality of the drought and what is the government’s
plans to boost life back into the Eastern Capes economy?
The status-quo
The Eastern Cape is rife with drought, with over 50% of dams being less than half full –
affecting over forty-four towns where rivers and taps have reportedly run dry. Main dams
supplying water to townships across the eastern cape are at an all-time low, with
Madikizela-Vuso reporting that the Adelaide Dam and the Nqweba Dam are still at 0%
capacity while Bedford’s dam is now at 36%. In many cases towns are relying on
groundwater for emergency water supply, which is restricted and rationed for provisions –
spokesperson for the Beyers Naude Local Municipality Edwardine Abader, said they are
struggling to provide even 10 litres of water a day to residents due to limited resources. The
current water status is worsened by ongoing vandalism and load shedding as water pumps
stop for extended periods and vandals damage main water pipes, causing massive leaks
while trying to steal pumps and Jo-Jo tanks. This damage takes additional time and materials
to repair that are not always on hand, causing leaks to go unchecked – wasting thousands of
litres per day.
The drought’s impact
With small towns already suffering from South Africa’s ailing economy, the drought has had
a massive impact, with approximately 70% of small-town residents out of work. The
households of the Eastern Cape, specifically in rural areas, the agricultural sector and
businesses, have been hit the hardest. Since January 2018, the South African agricultural
sector has shed over 31,000 jobs in provinces severely affected by the drought and lost
approximately R7 billion in turnover. Even with the R74 million donated to farmers by the
provincial department of rural development & agrarian reform, livestock is starving due to
low dam levels and lack of food supply. This starvation is causing many farmers to shut
down due to a loss of income due to premature culling and low-quality meat, in an already
crippled economy.
Some areas are waiting for as long as 10 days to receive water from tanks, leaving locals to
fend for themselves by collecting water from dams shared by livestock. This increases the
chance of water-born illnesses to strike such as dysentery or cholera – decreasing already
abysmal sanitation levels. The gathering of water also proves a struggle for many, as the
disabled or sick have to pay those available to collect water for them at times that the taps
are open, which is not always possible. These hardship conditions have left residents
demanding the government for a laid out plan to relieve the current drought pressures.

The plan of action
Water and sanitation minister Lindiwe Sisulu has told Parliament that her department is on
top of South Africa’s water crisis. The plan consists of a call to action to raise awareness,
with an investment in the water sector spanning over an initial period of 15 years and
beyond. Urging the government that when it comes to water, business cannot go on as
Initial donations have been made to Eastern Cape Municipalities for emergency relief – with
the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs contributing R20 million.
Ndlambe Municipality Manager Roly Dumezweni has stated that a long term solution would
be to construct a desalination plant, meaning coastal towns would not have to rely on
inland water, evening out the supply. However, the funding for this plant would be in excess
of R98 million and take years to be profitably functioning. President Ramaphosa has stated
that to ensure South Africa’s water security R126 billion is needed for infrastructure – the
current plan is to invest wisely in water projects and ensure the conservation of water
If there is one clear fact it is that water is life – whether it be for people, animals, businesses
or economies and South Africa is running out. For survival, a new water-efficient era must
reign, one where responsible water management and conservation education is given
priority and support. So let’s hope that South Africa gets the message – every last drop

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