South Africa Warns of Cuts to Water Supply in Drought Battle

  • Government expecting little drought relief in coming months
  • Drought affecting water systems supplying 18% of population

South Africa may be forced to reduce water supply in some areas as the country battles its worst drought since 1992, according to Water Minister Nomvula Mokonyane.

Below-average rainfall in the past few months has led to “worsening drought conditions” in the nation, where two of nine provinces have been declared disaster areas, she told reporters in Johannesburg on Sunday. As a result, the government may have to cut supply to consumers and farmers, Mokonyane said.

“Water is a constitutional right in South Africa,” she said. “What we will do is reduce the supply. Where there is no water being provided, we will augment that with water tanks.”

The timing and size of cuts will depend on the rate of voluntary rationing by South Africans along with future rainfall. Gauteng, the province that includes Johannesburg and Pretoria, imposed restrictions on using hoses and sprinklers on Oct. 28. There is “no imminent risk of water shortages,” in the province, she said.

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. Caused by El Nino, a global weather pattern that denies moisture to the sub-Saharan region, the dry weather probably will 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.

Drought Reality

"Despite the rains received in July, the drought remains a reality," Mokonyane said. "Our long-range forecasts currently show below-normal expected rainfall and therefore little relief is anticipated in the coming months."

The drought is straining systems supplying about 18 percent of the country’s 53 million people, Mokonyane said, encouraging citizens to conserve water. KwaZulu-Natal is the province that’s worst affected, she said.

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, she said. It will spend a further 95 million rand on water tanks and other steps to alleviate the drought.

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