South Africa’s Real Water Crisis: Not Understanding What’s Needed

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By Mike Muller

A serious multi-year drought in parts of South Africa’s Northern and Eastern Cape provinces has seen a number of small towns threatened by total water supply failures and livestock farmers facing financial ruin.

In other parts of the country, heatwave conditions and the late onset of rains have caused local supply failures. Although the dams that supply most of the main urban areas are still at reasonable levels, there are growing fears that the country may be witnessing the start of a major drought.

Cape Town’s experience of extreme “Day Zero” supply restrictions only adds to these fears. Weather forecasters seem unable to make reliable predictions more than a few weeks in advance. And there are nagging concerns about the government’s ability to identify and address emerging problems.

Unhelpfully, there’s no single water problem and the issues confronted vary widely from place to place.

In Cape Town, water managers thought they could avoid building new infrastructure to supply a growing population by encouraging everyone to use less water. A major drought proved them wrong.

During October’s heatwaves in Gauteng province, water ran dry as local reservoirs were emptied by residents who felt the need to use extra water for their gardens – and municipalities failed to enforce restrictions.

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