Cii Radio | 19 Muharram 1437/02 November 2015

South Africa is in the fourth consecutive year of drier- than-average weather, with 2015 the most severe. Arid conditions are slashing food production and boosting the price of staples such as corn. Meteorologists claim it is caused by El Nino, a global weather pattern that denies moisture to the sub-Saharan region. They predict that the dry weather may persist through the remainder of this year and into March, a period when the country normally gets most of its rain, according to the South African Weather Service.

Here are a collection of  shocking facts that illustrate the scale of South Africa’s present water crisis:

  • South Africa is the 30th driest country in the world


  • This is our worst drought in 23 years

In May last year, it was predicted that 2014 was set to be the biggest harvest since 1981. It was predicted that 13.5 million tons of maize would be harvested by end of the season. Well, 10 months later and the worst drought since 1992 we end up in a situation where we have to import maize due to the volatile climate we are experiencing now.

  • We’re officially experiencing a disaster

Due to drought conditions, the Kwazulu Natal province was officially declared a disaster area last week. This follows on the government’s earlier announcement that the Free State, the country’s biggest corn-growing province was also a disaster area, with all its municipalities and districts affected.

  • The crisis is national

Water Affairs Minister Nomvula Mokonyane recently revealed that the drought currently affects 173 of the 1 628 water supply schemes nationally, serving approximately 2.7 million households.

She also revealed the scale of the effect of the drought and the state of water security in the country. “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,” said Mokonyane.

She said this number could increase to over 11 000 rural communities as the dry period extended and local water resources got depleted.

Mokonyane added that in badly affected areas such as the northern parts of KwaZulu-Natal, southern parts of Mpumalanga, and parts of Limpopo, North West and the Northern Cape, about 50% of local water storage is problematic and could become critical if not managed carefully.

  • Some dam levels stand at less than 30%

The water situation in KwaZulu-Natal is the worst since the 1960s, with dams at an average 58% capacity. Three of its 18 large water supply schemes are at risk, and 42 of the 117 schemes are affected by drought.

In June, the province’s Hazelmere dam stood at just 29.6% capacity – a serious cause for concern considering that only 18 percent of that water is usable while 15 percent is mud.

The lack of rain in spring and summer has contributed to the dire situation. In an effort to augment water resource availability in the Hazelmere Dam, an emergency pipeline has been constructed by Umgeni Water. The pipeline has begun transferring water from uThongathi River to Hazelmere Dam. Water restrictions have been implemented in the areas north of eThekwini that are supplied by the dam. These restrictions are implemented for about three hours daily.

In June it was predicted that if the arid conditions persist, water in Hazelmere would only last for about three months.

Another hard hit municipality in KZN is the Harry Gwala District, which is supplied by the Ixopo Dam. The KZN MEC for co-operative governance and traditional affairs (Cogta), Nomusa Dube-Ncube, has already had to intervene.

The dam was at last count dipping to a critically low level of 30%.

Harry Gwala district has been in discussions with farmers upstream who have three dams to release immediately, but even with that plan it is necessary to implement water restrictions until the situation returns to normality,” said the MEC.

On the border of Durban, the iLembe District has reduced water supply by 50%, with many communities not receiving water for three days at a time.

According to an SA Weather Services report, the province has experienced “on average below-normal rainfall for 15 consecutive months since March 2014”.

  • Maize production has been hit hard

A report released by the UN’s food and nutrition working group last month found this drought – the country’s worst since 1992 – had caused a decline in maize production that had already led to an increase in food prices of 6.4%.

“South Africa’s first maize production forecast estimates the 2015 harvest to be the worst in eight years,” it found.

The Crop Estimates Committee predicts this season’s harvest will be 9.84 million metric tons, the smallest since 2007.

Agricultural business chamber Agbiz CEO John Purchase said the cost of the drought was difficulty to quantify.

“Just the maize crop is down from 14.25 million tons [worth R25.4 billion] last year to an estimated 9.84 million tons this year. This alone translates to a loss in income of close to R10 billion. The total loss amounts to [several] billions [more],” he said.

Grain SA chief executive Jannie de Villiers warned that the country would have barely enough white maize for its own consumption, and would need to import about 700 000 tons of yellow maize to feed livestock, which would cost farmers R1.96 billion.

  • Prices of staple food items are sky-rocketing

Grain SA’s De Villiers says from May this year to January next year, we can expect an additional increase of between 15% and 20% in the maize meal price.

Researchers working on the SPII Basic Needs Basket Project, which monitors the prices or cost of 39 goods and services each month countrywide, have found that the price of maize meal has shot up by 37% in urban areas in the Free State, 34% in North West and 29% in Gauteng. In rural areas, prices increased by 39% in the Free State and 25% in Gauteng.

The price of samp, SPII researchers found, increased by 41% and 38% in the Free State and North West’s urban areas, respectively.

Tomato production has also been affected.

In the Nwanedi irrigation area in Limpopo, about 1 000 farmers had been forced to “reduce production by 50% because there is not enough water”.

Large companies like Tiger Brands and Rhodes rely on the area for tomatoes, which will now have to be imported.

  • Water shedding is here

Water shedding has been implemented in Kwa Zulu Natal since June this year. The rationing of water in the province is due to drought, non-payment of water services and continued high water usage patterns from households and businesses.

Ethekwini Municipality’s water shedding is the water equivalent of Eskom’s electricity load shedding. A certain amount of water is allocated to each household and business in the affected areas on a daily basis. Water restrictors, which restrict water flow by 30%, have been installed into taps in the eThekwini Municipality to ensure even distribution.

Several reservoirs in the northern region of Ethekwini have also been shut down for operational reasons. Affected areas are Verulam, Grange, Redcliff, Waterloo, Terence, Westbrook, La Mercy, Sea Tides, Emona, Burbreeze and Umdloti as well as areas under ILembe District Municipality, including Ballito.

Of late, sue to increased water demand caused by persistent high temperatures, the Tshwane, Johannesburg and Ekurhuleni metropolitan municipalities have also started implementing water restrictions.

Rand Water has issued the three metros a notification that its supply pipeline servicing the areas is under severe strain.

“The lack of rainfall in Gauteng is exacerbating the situation. The high water demand will cause localised problems in the City of Johannesburg, City of Tshwane and the Ekurhuleni Metropolitan Municipality,” said Rand Water in a statement.

The temporary water restrictions, implemented with immediate effect, include watering gardens with hosepipes or a sprinkler system between 6am and 6pm, washing vehicles with hosepipes and filling swimming pools.

Rand Water warned that should the restrictions not be adhered to, the situation may worsen.

It is clear that water shedding, or water restrictions no longer can be considered isolated cases. According to government officials, about a third of all towns are in some form of serious water distress. The department of water considers one in 10 municipal water systems to be totally dysfunctional, and, of those that are working, a quarter experiences regular service disruptions of more than two days at a time.

In provinces such as Mpumalanga, there are more households that have regular water interruptions than those with a steady supply.

  • 37% of our drinkable water is being lost, needlessly

South Africa is losing the equivalent of 4.3 million swimming pools of water a year because of leaky pipes and theft, The Sunday Times reported.

According to the newspaper, a Water Research Commission (WRC) study had indicated that South Africa lost 1.58 billion kilolitres of water a year, or just under 132m k/l a month.

This was enough water to fill a third of the Gariep Dam, the largest in South Africa.

The water loss reportedly cost South Africa around R7.2bn a year.

It is reported that 37% of our clean drinkable water is lost through leaking pipes, dripping taps and infrastructure failures and some analysts say the more realistic figure here is about 50% losses.

A study released by the Department of Water and Sanitation in conjunction with the Water Research Commission estimates that 1.58-billion cubic metres of supplied water is unaccounted for each year. About 36.8% of SA’s water is nonrevenue water — which represents the level of water loss from urban supply schemes due to nonpayment of accounts (unbilled metered and unbilled unmetered), illegal offtake and loss and leakage from infrastructure.

Research data from 132 (of 237 municipalities), representing 75% of the total volume of municipal water supply, show that the current level of non-revenue water is estimated at 36.7%, of which 25.4% is considered to be losses through physical leakages  .

Gauteng spends between R50m and R100m a year on infrastructure maintenance, but “this is not enough to cover one-third of the cost required for maintenance, let alone refurbishments”.

In Etekwini, 237 million litres a day are lost due to illegal water connections, vandalism, and leaks that are not reported on time.

  • Sewage is a big stink

The decline of water quality due to urban and industrial effluent discharge into river systems, poorly maintained wastewater treatment works, salinity from irrigation return flows, acid mine drainage and inadequate sanitation facilities poses yet another water challenge for our nation.

Currently, South Africa uses 98% of its available water supply, and 40% of all our waste water treatment is in a critical state in terms of infrastructure. Moreover, 60% of the countries water service authorities do not have the right permits to make them compliant for the respective treatment works.

The sources of pollution in fresh water include industrial run-off and acid mine drainage, but human waste is a larger and more immediately dangerous component, ironically because of the large amount of water South Africans use.

“Most waste water treatment facilities are under stress because so much more waste water needs to be treated,” said Gunnar Sigge, head of Stellenbosch University’s department of food science and one of those involved in a seminal – and alarming – 2012 study for the Water Research Commission.

“Some of the biggest problems [in the water system] are caused by treatment works that aren’t functioning.”

Jo Barnes, a specialist in community health risks at Stellenbosch, said a chronic lack of investment in treatment plants meant conditions that should not exist, such as diarrhoea, were killing people.

“The whole environment where people live is contaminated. This is a massive, massive problem, but one that people will not talk about. There are just a few angry people trying to raise awareness.”

The 2012 study, carried out in all the provinces and over a three-to-four year period, found that the amount of faecal matter in many water systems made it unsafe for irrigation, because eating raw produce watered with it could cause illness.

  • Government has earmarked R350 million to address the disaster

The government is spending about 350 million rand ($25 million) on measures to reduce the effects of the drought, such as drilling boreholes, upgrading infrastructure, capturing more rainwater and building desalination plants, facilities that make sea water potable. It will spend a further 95 million rand on water tanks and other steps to alleviate the drought.

According to a recent government report, R300 billion needs to be spent over the short term to avoid a full scale water crisis.

  • It is predicted that South Africa’s water demand will outstrip its supply by 2030

The 2030 Water Resources Group, of which the Water Affairs department is a member, has calculated that, by 2030, the demand for water will exceed supply by 17%.

The national theme during a recent water week was, ‘What if this were the last drop’. That is a sobering thought for anyone who has suddenly found a dry tap due to a pipe burst, and it is a daily reality for millions of people throughout South Africa. It could become a daily reality for us all.

In addition to taking all possible precautionary measures to preserve this precious resource, the Ummah is advised to engage in abundant Istighfaar, Dua and Istisqa at this time of crises, placing complete trust in Allah SWT to reverse our fortunes.