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Green drought grips KZN

The Witness 16 Jan 2019

KWAZULU-NATAL remains in the grip of a green drought.

While water restrictions have been lifted in the city, experts say the drought that has ravaged the province since 2015 has not let up in many areas.

KZN suffered a crippling drought throughout 2015 and 2016, leaving many farms, towns and rural areas with JoJo tanks as their only source of water.

In 2015, the level of Midmar Dam dropped to its lowest since 1983 and while the dam is now at 94%, experts say this does not signal the end of the drought.

Several local municipalities as well as local farmers have said that they are still suffering.

KwaZulu-Natal Agricultural Union director Sandy la Marque said yesterday the union is currently in talks with disaster management, in particular, drought management teams, across the country, as other provinces, too remain in the grip of drought conditions.

“Things are not okay.  People assume the drought of 2015 is over, but we still need a lot of water to recover.  We are in the midst of a green drought,” said University of KwaZulu-Natal agrometeorologist Dr Alistair Clulow.

“The rain fall in the province has not been equal everywhere and we are seeing some unusual weather patterns,” he said.

“At times we will have two or three isolated storms with lots of rain so people assume the drought is over but the water table is not being replenished.

“Ground and soil water are still low and levels in farm dams are still dropping.  Things are really dry out there.”

Clulow said it was difficult to pin point the cause of the drought and if it was linked to another upcoming ElNiño or to climate change.

“There is no definitive answer.  Weather is all a prediction based on historic patterns and with those patterns now changing, the measurements used now are sort of meaningless.”

Local farmer Robin Barnsley said they were not getting the rain they should during this time of year.

“The perception is that everything is okay because everywhere is green, but rainfall has been patchy.

“The weather we are having is definitely unusual and I know areas like Estcourt and Winterton are bone dry.”

La Marque said that throughout KZN the union has had reports of lower than average rainfall.

She said the organisation was concerned as dam and rainfall levels “are certainly not what they should be at this time of the season”.

“This potentially holds challenges for the winter season for crop and livestock farmers,” she said.

Umgeni Water spokes person Shami Harichunder said some parts of the uMngeni catchment system have not had good rainfall but it does not mean these areas are in a drought sequence.

He said above average rainfall has been predicted over the next three months.

Harichunder said that by May, it would be clearer whether water restrictions needed to be implemented.

“Spring Grove, Midmar, AlbertFalls and Inanda dams are still of concern as the expected rainfall in these catchments has only now started to improve.”

uThukela (Ladysmith) District Municipal spokes person Jabulani Mkhonza said: “Water levels in our rivers and dams have dropped drastically.  There are areas using water tankers as their supply.”

He said these areas included Ladysmith and Okhahlamba (Bergville).

uMzinyathi (Dundee) District Municipal spokes person Mandisa Mbuyisa said they are in “a very serious drought situation”.

“Water restrictions were put in place in November 2018 and further restrictions will be implemented as there are no rain projections in the near future, said Mbuyisa.

“The rain we have had so far, has had no effect on the dam or river levels.  The levels are decreasing rapidly,” she said.

“The rainfall in the province has not been equal everywhere and we are seeing some unusual weather patterns.