Drought requires renewed focus

Gaongalelwe Tiro


There is an urgent need to understand drought better so as to manage the phenomenon and its associated risks effectively.  The call comes from TCTA Senior Manager: Strategic Programmes Jeremiah Mutamba, who was  speaking during a Knowledge Sharing Session on 12 December 2019.

Mr Mutamba said an unfavourable prognosis made the renewed focus on drought even more imperative and urgent. He defined the phenomenon as a recurring extreme climate event characterised by below-normal moisture availability over a period of months to years. It is not only about lack of rain.

“More than 60% of Southern Africa is vulnerable to drought,” Mr Mutamba said. “Changes in characteristics of large drought events would have serious consequences for local and regional water, food and energy security.”

In the 2018/19 financial year, drought affected 141 municipalities from eight of nine provinces. South Africa has
278 municipalities. The situation is not expected to improve.

Mr Mutamba said in addition to studying the phenomena carefully, the country required a comprehensive response to the drought challenge. “If these outlooks are true, then we …also need to improve our water
management in drought conditions.

“Drought is a threat to water management, water-dependent activities and livelihoods. It tests water systems and reduces supplies.”

Drought could have substantial negative economic impacts on farmers and the local economy, Mr Mutamba dded.
“Since January 2018, the agricultural sector shed 31,000 jobs in provinces severely affected by the drought and lost approximately R7 billion.”

It was possible that in the event of towns running out of water, there could be social unrest. Other effects could include hardship and stress from loss of productivity and the trauma of witnessing the devastation of crops and livestock.

To underscore the gravity of the situation, Mr Mutamba cited a 2015 Australian study. It posits that were people not exposed to drought in that country, the incidence of mental health problems in rural and regional areas would be 10.5% lower.

Oxfam South Africa argues that dysfunctional relationships and  institutions, inadequate policies, and practices of the political and economic system make managing drought difficult. As with other forms of disaster, preparation diminishes the impact while organisation enables an adequate response.

Mr Mutamba recommended an improvement of early warning systems, taking advantage of technology advancement, the management and reduction of water demand and the establishment of a fund to risk-proof
stakeholders. Further interventions should include the diversification of water resource options and integrating climate change scenarios in water planning.


The above table depicting the drought situation across South Africa was obtained from AgriSA