None of us can forget the drought or the consequent water restrictions imposed on us in the latter half of this decade. George had identified the need for augmented water supplies as early as 2005/2006. In 2007, a report had warned of water shortage risk along the Garden Route as a result of increased water usage by golf courses and holiday estates – this was ignored.
There was no defined beginning to the drought but between 2009 and 2011 the Eden & Central Karoo municipal areas were experiencing a disaster.
Water is life so understanding what happened
is essential towards safeguarding our future
The Disaster Mitigation for Sustainable Livelihoods Programme has composed a fantastic review and analysis about it which comprises 6 municipalities, including our Knysna Municipality. It examined rainfall, water usage and risk management measures.
This blog is merely a summary aimed at reaching a broader audience. Praise must go to the research team who compiled the full, well-researched 159 page report, Eden and Central Karoo Drought Disaster 2009 -2011 (right-click and download):
From 2009-2011, municipalities located in the Eden and Central Karoo Districts of the Western Cape Province of South Africa experienced moderate, severe and extreme meteorological drought. This resulted in almost immediate effects for livestock farmers due to compromised grazing conditions. In addition, diminished rainfall resulted in numerous lagged, ‘knock-on’ consequences to ground and surface water resources that translated into critically low urban water supplies in the Southern Cape municipalities and Beaufort West. These ‘hydrological drought’ conditions generated additional effects and necessitated significant emergency responses over the two-year period.
The drought coincided with the global economic recession which hampered management efforts. There may have been numerous deficiencies in water resource management but there were remarkable accomplishments too.
R572 million was spent
on wide-ranging relief actions
Funding and effort was a combined effort by national, provincial, municipal and civil bodies. 86.5% of this was directed to improving urban water supply infrastructure whilst the rest was allocated for farmer relief. The Eden District Municipality contributed R1.8 million of this, mostly for awareness campaigns.
An engineer criticized funding allocation for making a large contribution to Industrial Water and Domestic Water use sectors but no capital investment went to agricultural use “for the construction of infrastructure to aid and augment the assured yield of irrigation water for, say, storage of water from periods of abundance in dams.” Urban areas received dedicated salaried teams of technical people whilst rural areas did not. “The drought disaster resulted in capital works being done in haste to relieve water shortages in towns…in retrospect, (these) could have been more beneficial of more thinking time was allowed. A typical example is the clearing of invasive alien vegetation in the Karatara area (Knysna) where a smaller investment would have resulted in sustainable jobs, immediate guaranteed water supply and environment benefits compared to a substantial investment in a desalination plant with limited water and severe maintenance cost.”
41% decline in daily water consumption
Focused municipal response achieved a staggering 41% decline in daily water consumption for Bitou, George, Mossel Bay, Knysna, Oudshoorn and Hessequa between April 2008 and October 2010. This was an essential rescue. Although groundwater supplies were expanded and reclamation, waste-water treatment and desalination plants were established, most of these projects only came on line after the drought had broken. The Department of Water Affairs played a crucial role in co-facilitating and coordinating emergency meetings with the Provincial and National Treasury as well as the Development Bank of South Africa.
Prior to the drought, there’d been a serious lack of water management and investment into water infrastructure. These problems were amplified by a lack of drought risk management planning. There were also no detectors to alert the municipalities to the start of the drought. Unstable weather patterns had also made it difficult for farmers to manage the impacts of unpredictable, seasonal weather and it’s accompanying, varying rainfall patterns.
Livestock farmers noted that jackals and lynx posed more threat to their herds than the drought but that there had been an increase in livestock diseases after heavy rain had followed the drought. These and other factors made it impossible to ascertain the exact affect the drought had had on livestock.
Poor, rural households subsisting on agriculture came under immense pressure. Farm workers livelihoods were precarious, exacerbated by a “lack of access to formal social protection and social relief”. Owing to this and other factors, the workforce shrunk by almost 30%.
Read Part 2 here.