SA's drought a 'harvest of dysfunction' - Oxfam

2017-03-28 15:11
The Churchill dam near Port Elizabeth.  (Werner Hills, Netwerk24)

The Churchill dam near Port Elizabeth. (Werner Hills, Netwerk24)

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Johannesburg – The ongoing drought has exposed "hazardous shortcomings" in the planning and management of the country’s water resources, according to report by Oxfam SA released on Tuesday.

Government officials and politicians calling the drought a "God-given" event, and their palpable relief that rain had fallen in parts of the country, created the illusion that South Africa had survived the crisis.

"This denies the reality of severe drought as a slow-onset disaster that systematically strips away layers of resilience, resulting in poverty, insecurity and hunger for growing numbers of people."

The report is entitled "A Harvest of Dysfunction: Rethinking the Approach to Drought, its Causes and Impacts on South Africa".

The devastation caused by the current drought was not simply a consequence of poor rainfall and the strongest El Niño on record.

"It is a harvest of dysfunction, arising from South Africa's failure to address structural vulnerabilities."

The had drought exposed critical fault lines in South Africa - including inequalities in income and access to land and water, which exacerbated the drought's impact.

"These weaknesses require urgent attention if the current and future combinations of recurrent droughts, stronger El Niño effects and rising temperatures as a result of climate change are to be managed sustainably."

Govt reaction 'slow, badly-targeted'

Oxfam SA criticised the government’s reaction to the crisis as slow, sporadic, and badly-targeted.

"Despite the range and extent of impacts across society, it has not declared a national emergency."

South Africa was a water-scarce country subject to recurrent droughts, and unless urgent action was taken, it faced the prospect that water supplies in more and more areas would run out.

Food price escalations - resulting from an unregulated market and compounded by drought-induced supply constraints - were having a "devastating impact" on vulnerable people. Women were particularly affected.

"They are compelled to work ever harder to provide their families with the food and water they need to live healthy, productive and dignified lives."

'A national disaster should be declared'

South Africa’s food staple, white maize, was at the mercy of "speculative and financial dynamics that extend beyond South Africa, placing the entire region's food security at constant risk".

Oxfam recommended that the government redefine drought to enable a more appropriate response.

"A national disaster should be declared. A universal disaster grant should come into immediate effect in recognition of the impact of the drought on food prices and the costs of securing water."

A universal grant would be relatively simple and cost-effective to implement, given that South Africa already had an extensive social grant administration, Oxfam SA said. 

Read more on:    oxfam  |  drought

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