The effects of the South African drought are being felt across the country and ground-level relief groups are working harder than ever…
Words: Julienne du Toit
Pictures: Chris Marais, www.karoospace.co.za
Here’s an interesting factoid you might not know. In January 2016, South African citizen drought-relief groups Boere in Nood (BIN) and Water Shortage South Africa (WSSA) drew international attention when their Facebook pages grew faster than any other in the world at that time.
By early March 2016, BIN’s following stood at 52 000 and WSSA had the attention of 22 000 people. And here we’re not just talking about a series of ‘likes’. These numbers are made up mostly of concerned South Africans willing to give cash, time and water to the cause of their drought-hit countrymen.
At the beginning of March 2016, the list of BIN’s livestock farmers in desperate need of feed had grown to 1 300, up by 300 from a few weeks before.
“There has been a bit of rain here and there, but it has been very patchy, and there have been no follow-up rains,” said Carina Swartz of BIN. She and the other founders, NC Schoombee and Nico Gerber are working day and night to get hay bales to farmers in need. They will be doing this throughout the coming winter.
The drought has hit some areas particularly hard, she said. “We are sending a lot of feed up to the areas north of Kuruman, right up to the Botswana border. Bray, Tosca, Vryburg, Vorstershoop, that area. But we’re still trucking feed all over the country. The growing season is now almost over, so even if more rain falls now, it won’t really help. We will be working flat out right through winter. It’s really bad,” she said grimly.
On the water front, WSSA founder Caroline van Sassen said at the beginning of March 2016 that 14 million litres of water had been donated and transported. “Our biggest challenge is still transport and especially bulk transport. We have the water – but not enough wheels. Parts of North West, Free State, Limpopo and Northern KwaZulu-Natal are in a very bad way. If people can send us updates on their towns it will help us to get water to communities that need it.”
Word from the dynamic Operation Hydrate organisation was that it had distributed just under 10 million litres of water. It has gained a high profile, attracting celebrities and backing from distinguished sources such as Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu and his wife Leah.
Operation Hydrate is receiving and sharing information with government, specifically with the Department of Water and Sanitation, local municipalities and disaster-management officials around the country, according to co-founder Yaseen Theba. They also work closely with local municipalities and disaster management officials. “South Africans have really supported us, and we are grateful for the donations of money and water,” said Yaseen.
Operation Hydrate is trying to find sustainable sources of water, specifically for far-flung towns where transportation of water is difficult. “We are looking at drilling boreholes for water in towns like Vryheid. A team of hydrogeologists is out there now and we are looking at drilling within school grounds, hospital grounds and other places where communities can look after the boreholes.”
In the southern Free State, Smithfield’s dam was drier than a bone in early January 2016. By March, local DA councillor Ian Riddle said the dam was, “Perhaps one per cent full – there’s a small puddle in the middle, put it that way. Enough for a few flamingos to get their toes wet.”
The Caledon River that was only sand and a few puddles at the beginning of January 2016 had begun to run again, although it was far from its usual broad flow.
A pipeline has been set up between the river and the town’s waterworks and, as a result, the residents of Smithfield erratically have water coming out of their taps, most frequently at nights.
Aliwal North, which ran dry in late December 2015, had mostly normal water flow back again. Water released from Lesotho’s Katse Dam reached the town in early January 2016. Both the Orange and Kraai rivers had begun to flow once more.
Gariep Dam, which was 90 per cent full in March 2015, was hovering at just under 54 per cent a year later, slightly up from a low of 47 per cent in early January 2016.
- According to the United Nation’s World Food Programme, 16 million people currently face hunger because of the drought in Southern Africa. They warned that this number could grow to 50 million.
- Five provinces have been declared drought disaster areas so far – Mpumalanga, Limpopo, KwaZulu-Natal, North West and the Free State. Some parts of the Eastern Cape, Northern Cape and Western Cape have been severely affected.
- The South African Weather Service says 2015 was the country’s driest year since recording began in 1904. Average rainfall over the year was a meagre 403mm, compared to the norm of 608mm.
- Many areas in Southern Africa recorded their lowest rainfall in 35 years between October 2015 and January 2016 – the main planting time for staple crops like maize.
- The spot price for maize rose 100 per cent in a year.
- In February 2016, the Democratic Alliance said in Parliament that 55 towns and communities had no water, and blamed much of it on mismanagement and maladministration of infrastructure.
- In March 2016, the National Red Meat Producers vice-chairman Pieter Prinsloo said he estimated that South Africa would lose five per cent of its 13-million national beef herd. He noted there had been a 28 per cent increase in cattle slaughter in November and December 2015.
- Livestock farmers need about 6 000 litres a day, on average, for their animals. Carina Swartz said supplying this amount of water for farmers who had run dry was impossible. “Farmers usually help one another with borehole water if they run dry.”
- Generally wild animals cope better with drought conditions than livestock do, but conservationists have reported that heavily water-dependent animals like hippos and buffalos are badly affected in some parks. In the Kruger National Park a decision was taken to create more waterholes in ephemeral riverbeds, where water flows in underground channels. There are also heartbreaking reports of animals dying after becoming stuck in drying mud. In some of the smaller reserves under the control of Ezemvelo KwaZulu-Natal Wildlife, authorities are either moving or culling animals. Some private parks are bringing in water and food.
How to Help
- To help Boere in Nood, donate money to their First National Bank account number 62522986043, branch code 250655. Otherwise email them on [email protected] if you have feed you can donate, or if you can help with fuel or transport. Donations from outside the country can be made to a Paypal account –[email protected]
- Find the drop-off points for various towns you might pass through and help with bottles of water via the Water Shortage South Africa Facebook page.
- The Operation Hydrate Initiative SA needs money to drill boreholes for small towns. Help them by donating money to the Operation Hydrate bank account: ABSA account number 9314587739, branch code 632005.
- Agri-SA has started a drought fund. Find out more or donate via www.droogterampfonds.co.za. You could make a donation into their ABSA bank account, number 4068540775. Use the word RAMP as reference.