If you missed Part 1, find it here.
HOW IT HAPPENED
The profile of the drought-affected area was in alignment with the Gouritz Water Management Area (WMA). This constitutes the largest WMA in the Western Cape Province, with a total surface area of 53,1392 km (RHP, 2007(ii)). It is also characterised by two main climatic regions – an arid Karoo zone drained by the Gouritz River, as well as a narrower coastal belt south of the Outeniqua Mountains, with annual rainfall ranging from below 200mm to more than 1,000mm.
A detailed study of the Gouritz WMA’s southern coastal belt extending from Stilbaai to Knysna (including Hessequa, Mossel Bay, George and Knysna) specifically highlighted the water supply challenges facing this area. This report identified a ‘substantial demand for new housing developments, holiday residential estates and golf course estates, which has resulted in increased water requirements’. The same report noted that towns within the coastal belt were experiencing ‘serious periodic water shortages, mainly because of inadequate resources and insufficient capacity of their bulk supply infrastructure’.
The boom in tourism and retirement developments meant that Knysna, from 1996-2009, recorded an average annual economic growth rates of 6.6%. Mossel Bay reportedly experienced a 64.8% growth in population between 2001 and 2007. Significant expansion of tourism was also noted in George where, between 2004 and 2006, tourist beds within the municipality increased by 4,750. Further stress on water supplies was provided by an influx of job seekers [Ed: most, likely, from the Eastern Cape which experienced negative population growth].
Substantial water demand
by holiday residential estates and golf course estates
In 2009 annual rainfall totals represented only 50-75% of the climate mean for the Southern Cape coastal municipalities. It is significant that Uniondale received extraordinary rainfall in 2007 (174% of its annual mean rainfall) which, in principle, should have conferred protective benefits in additional surface water storage. However, the rainfall intensity associated with the November 2007 cut-off low damaged and destroyed numerous farm dams, immediately increasing the damaging consequences of the moderate meteorological drought in 2008.
‘Agricultural drought’ refers to conditions where ‘soil moisture is insufficient to support crops, pastures and rangeland species’. Markedly reduced vegetation activity in was consistent with diminished rainfall.
‘Hydrological drought occurs when below-average water levels in lakes, reservoirs, rivers, streams and groundwater, impact non-agricultural activities such as tourism, recreation, urban water consumption, energy production and ecosystem conservation’. Reduction in such can be caused by lower rainfall, rapid urban growth and economic development. The cumulative 2009 Knysna river flow was 63% lower. Keurbooms River, which supplies Plettenberg Bay, was 75% lower.
Water-buffering (e.g. dam storage) is essential. Whilst climatic change was initially the sole blame for reduced sam levels, in some areas it was discovered that rapid urbanization was responsible too. The Garden Route Dam and Haarlem Dam (Uniondale) dropped to only 25% of capacity but began recovering in 2010. The Gamka Dam (Beaufort West), which had emptied completely, only began recovery in 2011.
In Beaufort West groundwater supplies reached critical levels during the drought as examplified by the Noorde Einde Aquifer which dropped from 13 metres to 36 metres below ground from November 2008 to December 2010.
Early-stage meteorological and associated hydrological drought conditions were identifiable by December 2008-January 2009. Despite evidence of widespread moderate dryness across eastern areas of the Western Cape, combined with forecasted below-normal rainfall totals for March-May 2009, there was no official warning of an impending meteorological drought for 2009. The January 2009 drying of the Karatara River, the primary water source for Sedgefield in Knysna, explicitly signaled the early stages of an emerging meteorological and hydrological drought. Awareness of the value of accurate meteorological information for drought risk management became evident by August 2009. This was significantly enabled by the establishment of structured monthly drought management meetings that communicated SPI (past dryness), combined with monthly-quarterly forecasts – and related these to reservoir water levels. This information became indispensable for drought risk management planning across affected municipalities.
The convergence of extremely difficult economic conditions with an unforeseen meteorological shock imposed additional stresses on the drought-affected areas, and constrained the range of risk-management options available to minimise either threat. In 2009, the Eden District’s economy contracted by 1.7%, while the Central Karoo economy was reportedly ‘stagnant’ with a negligible growth rate of 0.2%. Although it is not possible to attribute agricultural job losses separately to drought or conditions of economic duress, or to other factors, it is significant that the Western Cape’s agricultural labour force shrank by 29.7% between January-March 2010 and January-March 2011.
Sedgefield represented the defining event for the 2009-2011 drought emergency. This was signalled in January 2009 when Knysna officials informed the Eden District Municipality and the PDMC that Sedgefield faced a water crisis. In response, the PDMC requested the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) as well as Departments of Transport and Public Works to transport desperately needed water from George to Sedgefield. This was followed by the rapid installation (within 14 days) of a Water Irrigation Network emergency water supply infrastructure from the Hoogekraal River to Sedgefield.
Knysna and George had less
than three months’ water supply in storage
The November 2009 declarations of local disasters respectively for George, Mossel Bay and Knysna unlocked access to funding for emergency urban water supplies. The urgency for these measures was underlined in an Eden District Municipal Water Crisis Management Progress report (15 January 2010) which noted that Knysna and George had less than three months’ water supply in storage, with Mossel Bay, Bitou and the Eden DMA faring only slightly better. Water security conditions continued to deteriorate, so that by early March 2010, only Oudtshoorn was adequately supplied, while all other Eden municipalities were acutely water stressed. By September 2010 the Gamka Dam in Beaufort West was recorded as empty. This prompted severe water load-shedding from November 2010 and the regular distribution of bottled water to every household within the municipality. In January 2011, Beaufort West received relief funding from the National Treasury for South Africa’s first water reclamation plant.
In June 2010, the Department of Social Development agreed to assist those identified households with a bread-winner who had become unemployed or whose income was drastically reduced. Families were screened by social development workers to assess their eligibility for relief. Qualifying families were then provided with financial relief for three months as well as food parcels. Although originally 1,280 farm dwellers were believed to be affected, only 45 families eventually received relief between May and August 2010. The low number of families qualifying for assistance was partly due to an eligibility requirement that excluded entire families from other forms of financial relief if any family member was already receiving any form of government grant. For instance, the receipt of a modest child grant for one child within a family automatically disqualified the breadwinner from receiving any form of assistance from the Social Relief of Distress Programme.
Although there was no official declaration marking the end of the emergency, June 2011 is widely viewed as signalling the end of the drought, both in the Eden District and the Central Karoo. This month marked the first heavy rainfall in the Eden district and the refilling of the Gamka Dam in Beaufort West. Ironically, this rainfall accompanied a powerful cut-off low that resulted in devastating floods.
KEY GAPS IDENTIFIED
1.1 Operational gaps related to Provincial and District Disaster Management Centres:
- Limited discernment of drought onset and impending water scarcity (across multiple stake-holder groups), along with definitional difficulties with accurate disaster classification and declaration. Specifically, there was no uniform definition of drought.
- Insufficient application of the Standardised Precipitation Index (SPI) values to specific municipal jurisdictions that may have delayed/excluded assistance for areas that were meteorologically drought-affected – for instance localities in transitional zones areas (i.e. Swellendam, Overberg District Municipality) that shared borders with drought declared municipalities.
- Lack of functioning meteorological drought ‘warning system’ in which SAWS advised the NDMC/PDMC/DDMCs of advancing or accumulating rainfall deficits (i.e. quarterly SPI maps overlaid with municipal boundaries), combined with forecast conditions and interpretations by experienced personnel.
- Lack of water risk rating/monitoring system and inclusion of these assessments in quarterly reports to PDMC/DDMCs that would have identified escalating water supply risks before these reached critical levels.
- No contingency plans existed for managing advancing urban water shortages in areas exposed to erratic rainfall (although George, Bitou and Mossel Bay have now generated drought management strategies after their 2009-2011 experience).
- Serious shortcomings in the water sector that exacerbated the drought’s effects, ageing municipal water distribution infrastructure, unaccounted for water losses and limited water management capacity.
- The lack of monthly and quarterly PDMC drought progress montoring templates that would have enabled wide-area monitoring over time. Nor project monoitoring and summative reporting processes for reconciling funds secured from National Treasury against actual deliverables (despite excellent meeting reports and administrative reports on activating funding).
The Western Cape Province’s complex agricultural risk profile (i.e. annual back-to-back weather disasters, veterinary diseases and wild-fires) calls for urgent expansion of the Provincial Department of Agriculture’s risk management capacity. Since 2003, agriculture has sustained the highest losses in every major weather-related disaster within the Province. This has generated heavy technical and support requirements for the Provincial Department, whose staffing has not kept pace with rising demand.
1.2.2 Social Development:
Inadequate mechanisms for assessing social relief needs, especially of farm workers, resulted in unexpectedly low numbers of households receiving assistance for only three months. However, field research indicated clear evidence of considerable hardship in this instance that far exceeded the scale of social relief provided. This was in part due to deficits in agricultural support for commercial farmers and small-scale farmers, which were amplified by the economic downturn. The scale of contraction in agriculture and its knock-on consequences to farm labour between the first quarters of 2010 and 2011 were measurably reflected in the loss of 51,000 agricultural jobs (Statistics SA, 2011).Although it is not possible to attribute agricultural job losses specifically to drought or conditions of economic duress or other factors, it is noteworthy that the Western Cape’s agricultural labour force shrank by 29.7%, from 172,000 to 121,000.
Recommendations applicable to the Provincial Disaster Management Centre –
In consultation with relevant stake-holders, develop uniform drought definitions linked to:
- unambiguous meteorological drought monitoring indicators (including SPI values)
- quarterly water supply risk monitoring indicators
- municipal drought and/or escalating water scarcity contingency plans.
Incorporate spatially-represented meteorological drought indicators in identifying drought-affected municipalities to avoid excluding towns that may be affected but fall outside the disaster-declared areas (this especially applies to small towns in trans-boundary drought ‘transition zones’ that may not have the resources to respond).
Strengthen drought early warning and response capabilities by:
- consulting with the Department of Agriculture and Agri-SA on improving the effectiveness and accessibility of timely meteorological drought warning information for farmers.
- consulting both the DWA and Eden District Municipality to restore the urban water supply risk-rating and monitoring system that was crucial to the management of the drought emergency, but has since been discontinued.
- requesting the National Disaster Management Centre consult the South African
Weather Service to:
- Regularise the quarterly dissemination of national SPI maps (3-month, 6-month, 12-month and 24-month) overlaid with municipal boundaries.
- Locate SAWS rainfall stations strategically for adequate rainfall monitoring (e.g. the Beaufort West Municipality has installed its own rainfall station near the Gamka Dam as there is no SAWS gauge within this crucial catchment).
Support efforts by DWA to strengthen urban water security by:
- Encouraging municipalities to invest in reducing unaccounted-for water losses and bringing into operation water conservation and demand management practices – ensuring that all municipal water supply schemes have functioning reservoir operating rules in place, as well as flow gauging and other resource monitoring installations.
- Ensuring that municipal disaster risk assessments incorporate considerations of urban water scarcity/shortage and drought, given patterns in population growth and provision of free basic water services.
- Encouraging municipalities to implement strong water conservation and demand management programmes, in instances where is little scope to increase supply.
- Develop uniform drought monitoring templates for monitoring relief activities, including monthly/quarterly PDMC progress monitoring templates that enable wide-area monitoring over time and summative reporting processes for reconciling funds secured from National Treasury against actual programme outputs or payouts.
- Support efforts by the Department of Local Government to locate skilled engineering personnel within high-risk municipalities (not only for infrastructure development, but also to ensure robust on-going management of water resources).
Recommendations for the Provincial Department of Agriculture –
Urge review of current agricultural relief assessment processes to establish methods that:
- Are more effective in identifying and supporting farms that repeatedly sustain weather and other shocks (and that cannot recover)
- Incorporate economic risk factors that influence farm resilience and recovery under conditions of drought duress.
- Improve the effectiveness of the current agricultural relief scheme, specifically: investigate the reasons for farmers not taking up their fodder relief allocations compared to those who redeemed their fodder vouchers during drought episodes, compile livestock counts,registers at municipality, district municipality scale at least annually but preferably at six-monthly intervals in high-risk areas to track changes in asset profiles investigate alternative drought relief strategies that include increased water allocations and/or livestock vaccination campaigns for small-scale farmers (combined with planned and managed de-stocking early into the drought – before the animals have lost too much condition), due to the increased likelihood of animal diseases during drought episodes investigate the viability of ‘fodder banks’ to take advantage of abundant rainfall periods to store animal feed to minimise livestock risks during dry spells in cooperation with DWA and the WRC, undertake research to determine reasons for failure of farm dams under conditions of intense rainfall.
- Mobilise Department of Labour training schemes for farm worker support under conditions of drought duress, rather than support from Social Development’s Relief of Distress scheme, due to the latter’s narrow eligibility criteria.
- Urge review of technical support requirements for agricultural risk management within the Provincial Department of Agriculture. This refers to the need for urgent expansion of current agricultural risk management technical capacity due to the disaster-related demands in the province and associated agricultural losses.
For details on measures taken to increase urban water supplies (boreholes and desalination plants), funding breakdowns, water management interventions, the inter-relationships between drought and floods, fodder vouchers for farmers and more, it’s highly recommended that you download the full, well presented Eden and Central Karoo Drought Disaster 2009 -2011 disaster report.