Drought May Cause Water Shortages in Biggest South African City

  • Utility Rand Water urges customers to use "sparingly"
  • High temperatures combine with low rainfall to cut supplies

Johannesburg and Pretoria, South Africa’s biggest city and the nation’s capital, may experience “localized problems” in water supply because of a drought and high demand, according to Rand Water Services Pty Ltd., which supplies Johannesburg and Pretoria.

Residents should use water sparingly during the current period of high temperatures and low rainfall, the utility said Thursday in an e-mailed statement. These problems may include low pressure and water shortages in some areas, Rand Water spokesman Justice Mohale said in a phone interview.

"Persistent high temperatures in Rand Water’s area of supply have placed a strain on its bulk water supply system," the utility said in the statement. "The lack of rainfall has also further exacerbated the situation."

Parts of the country’s Free State and KwaZulu-Natal provinces were declared disaster areas earlier this year because of a lack of rainfall while areas of the Western Cape, which contains Cape Town, are suffering one of its worst droughts in 75 years. The dearth of water has slashed corn, wheat and sugar production in farming areas and will soon affect urban dwellings.

"The high water demand is projected to cause localized problems" in Johannesburg, Pretoria and Ekurhuleni, which is east of Johannesburg, it said. The utility’s "bulk supply system is concerning, yet stable. Rand Water and its municipal customers are in discussions to jointly manage the situation."

Rand Water is the country’s biggest water utility, serving about 12 million residents. More than 500,000 people in the eastern province of KwaZulu-Natal are facing severe hunger as a result of the drought, according to World Vision, a humanitarian organization.

This year’s low rainfall is likely the result of El Nino, a global weather pattern that causes dry conditions in sub-Saharan Africa, according to Anthony Turton, a professor at South Africa’s University of the Free State. The country is the 30th-driest nation on Earth with high evaporation levels due to its warm, sunny climate, according to the government.

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