Devastating drought puts jobs on the line

By admin
12 February 2010

In stifling heat of up to 43 °C we make our way along the N2 from Cape Town to the Eastern Cape. “The Garden Route is wilting,” a motorist remarks at a Storms River filling station.

The worst in living memory - that’s how Southern Cape people describe the drought in the region. With the lowest rainfall in recorded history George, Knysna, Mossel Bay and Plettenberg Bay have been declared disaster areas. The SA Weather Bureau says it might not rain for four or five months.

During our visit seven fires rage in the area and before we reach Riviersonderend the landscape is pale yellow. As we approach Riversdale at noon it’s 40 °C. In Oudtshoorn it’s 43 °C.

Most farm dams are empty or close to empty. Near Mossel Bay the Gouritz River, where adrenaline junkies bungee jump, is just a dry river bed.

In George, Sedgefield, Knysna and Plettenberg Bay billboards announce, “This is a drought disaster area”, “Fire danger” and “This is a water stressed area”. The daily water consumption in Knysna is 10,3 million litres instead of the seven million they aim for; in Sedgefield it’s 1,3 million instead of 1 million. George’s rainfall is the lowest in 132 years.

Some farmers have stopped planting crops and everyone’s fighting for survival, Agri Western Cape reports. Farmers get just 30 per cent of their annual water quota from the municipality.

Towns such as Bedford are bringing in water by truck. In Port Elizabeth school kids bring “brown water” from home for the lawns.

People in the drought-stricken parts are desperate. SMSes like this one do the rounds: “Please join SOS prayer group 4 Mossel Bay + Langkloof. They have water for just a week. If it doesn’t rain 35 000 people will lose their jobs.”

Unless the drought areas get more than 100 mm and follow-up rains water supplies will run out in three months.

Willie Cooper, a forester in the Eden district, survived droughts in the ’60s and ’70s. “The rivers were still flowing, this time they’re dry.”

He points to the Outeniqua mountains. “If a fire starts now it will be like 1869,” he warns. In that inferno hundreds of birds fled to the masts of ships off George to escape the flames.

The next morning soft rain starts falling around Knysna. Man and beast look to the sky but before long the sun breaks through the clouds. No big rain today.

Read the full article in the YOU of 18 February.

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