Relief for drought-stricken areas

Cape Town: The Department of Water and Sanitation says it will deploy water tanks and drill boreholes in the short-term in areas that are severely affected by the drought.

Deborah Mochotlhi, the Deputy Director-General responsible for Planning and Information at the department, also called on South Africans to use water sparingly as water shortages in various areas have recently led to four provinces being declared drought-stricken zones.

Mochotlhi said this when the department appeared before Parliament's Portfolio Committee that has oversight on water and sanitation.

"In the short and immediate term, we have [sent water tanks] to areas in distress.

"We will also be drilling boreholes where it is needed," she said.

This comes as most parts of the country experience severe water shortages as water reserves run low - resulting in demand exceeding supply.

The department is currently monitoring six provinces with regards to water shortages, with four already having been declared drought-stricken areas.

The six provinces are Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, North West, Free State and now Western Cape.

The provinces that have been declared drought-stricken are KwaZulu-Natal, Free State, North West and Limpopo, which was declared a disaster zone last week.

South Africa's current water mix currently stands at 88% assurance level of supply constituted by 77% surface resources, 9% ground, 14% return flows and desalination is less than 1%.

Four of South Africa's major river systems are being shared with six immediate neighbouring countries - Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland and Zimbabwe.

Mochotlhi said the country's national rainfall and evaporation was skewed - with the rain falling towards the eastern parts while evaporation increased westwards.

She said the department was, in a bid to mitigate the current situation, looking at altering the water mix in order to get more resources.

"In the medium term, we have desalination that will be applicable in the coastal areas and we have transfers from one scheme to another where possible.

"We also have the eradication of illegal water use.

"Fresh water is at its limit at most catchments that I have already indicated. There are measures in place to deal with that.

"According to the rain forecast, we will be experiencing drought for quite some time," she said.

She said these were the measures that would be looked at before the department can turn to transferring water from other sources such as the Lesotho Highlands Water Project Phase 2.

Another long-term measure the department is looking at is infrastructure development, Mochotlhi said.

Mochotlhi said, meanwhile, that South Africa's climate is variable and the country is water-scarce with limited fresh water resources, yet the water is needed for growth over the years.

Matlakala Motloung, the head of communications at the department, said the dam levels were being monitored on a daily basis and that information on the drought situation was being posted regularly on the department's website.

"There is also an Inter-Ministerial Committee that has been set up to deal with the drought issue, and the Government Communication and Information System is coordinating the communications efforts of all the departments that are affected," she said.

With regards to water shortages in Johannesburg, Motloung said the province had not been declared a drought-stricken area.

Gauteng has stress on the supply system due to a high demand as a result of the heatwave.

This is not the first drought experience we have had in the country.

According to the department, similar droughts were experienced in 1983 before there was an improvement around 1991. Another drought was experienced in 1994