When every drop counts

Dam levels in KZN still remain low
Dam levels in KZN still remain low

Known as South Africa’s number one tourist destination, KwaZulu-Natal is no doubt one of the most beautiful provinces in South Africa and a key player in the country’s economy.

Apart from its vibrant population and diverse cultures, KZN, as it is affectionately known, is also famous for its rolling green hills, numerous sugar cane plantations and pristine beaches.

But the onset of a severe drought in the province three years ago, is threatening not only its nature and ecosystem, but the economy and livelihoods are now under threat, writes Gabi Khumalo.

KZN was first declared a state of disaster in October 2014 and again on 11 November 2015. The situation has since deteriorated, and the provincial government acknowledges that drastic measures will have to be taken to avert serious damage. Fears loom large that even tourism may suffer far-reaching consequences due to scarcity of drinking water.

Unlike the Gauteng Province, where water restrictions have been lifted following recent heavy rains throughout the country, dam levels in KZN still remain low, and it is for this reason that the Joint Operations Centre for the Umgeni System has remained active and a 15% restriction is retained. 

More worrying, the current average levels of the dams in the province is still 13% below from what it was in the corresponding period last year.

Now Premier Willies Mchunu admits that the situation has had a devastating impact, not only on the provincial economy and commercial demand for water, but more significantly on human access to potable drinking water, drinking water for livestock and game farms, crop production and food security, as well as the state of the environment in general.

“This has also contributed to a 6.3% reduction in the number of households directly involved in agriculture over the period 2011 to 2016 and has thus further contributed to increased urbanisation in KwaZulu-Natal,” he says.

Substantial interventions implemented

Substantial effort and disaster interventions have been implemented from the national, provincial and local spheres of government to deal with the crisis situation.

The interventions have made it possible for the province to drill more boreholes in critical hotspots and refurbish others back into operation, as well as instal mobile packaged plants in areas, which are most severely affected.

The province has also procured more water tankers which have been distributed to various districts. The water tankers are made of stainless steel and have a capacity to hold 80 000 litres of water each, and are able to supply water to 2000 people per week.  An off-channel water storage has been established to augment raw water supply.

The Department of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs, which is the custodian of Disaster Management in the province, is helping municipalities that have areas with ground water to install pipes so that they can be able to reticulate.

Over and above the R503 million spent in the 2015/16 financial year, the Department of Water and Sanitation has reprioritised a further R700 million in the 2016/17 financial year for drought interventions.

While government is proud of what has been done to mitigate the risks related to the drought thus far, Premier Mchunu says there is still much more to be done.

“It is noted that despite mass mobilisation and awareness campaigns, we are still not achieving our water saving targets. Too many people in our province still do not appear to understand the severity of the situation and are not responding positively to calls to adhere to water restriction measures.

“Based on the latest assessment of the drought situation in our province, we had no alternative but to extend the current drought declaration on a month to month basis to allow us to provide extraordinary support to communities affected by this disaster and to minimise the risks related to this disaster,” Premier Mchunu says.

As devastating as the drought has been, the Premier remains positive and says this period has been a learning curve and the province is now well prepared to deal with flood risks in the midst of drought.

“Our disaster management teams, ably led by the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, are far more responsive today than ever before and our planners have become more proactive and forward-looking in the way they discharge their duties.

“We have also seen this capacity in action when we were anticipating the impact of Tropical Cyclone Dineo. Fortunately we did not have to mobilise our disaster management teams for this purpose, but it is good to know that we were well prepared to deal with flood risks in the midst of this drought,” he says. – SAnews.gov.za