Drought is officially not a national disaster any more

As some dams start filling up, and water use has decreased, the government has decided to not renew the national disaster status of the drought. Picture: Luvuyo Mehlwana.
As some dams start filling up, and water use has decreased, the government has decided to not renew the national disaster status of the drought. Picture: Luvuyo Mehlwana.

It’s taken millions of rands and a concerted effort by various spheres of government, but the national state of disaster that was declared regarding the drought is officially over.

The state of the national drought disaster, which was declared on March 13, lapsed today, and will not be renewed because the projects that were implemented by the government had already mitigated the immediate effect of the drought.

“Since the declaration, various interventions were initiated or intensified by the respective spheres of government. These interventions were executed within the prescribed existing legislation and or the respective contingency arrangements developed to deal with the acute phase of the drought,” said Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Zweli Mkhize, who opted not to renew the national state of the disaster.

However, the existing classification of a national disaster remained in force with the implication that the national executive would continue to be responsible for the coordination of the drought interventions under the aegis of an inter-ministerial task team on drought and water scarcity.

The numbers

The relevant spheres of government reprioritised resources in their existing allocations, expedited procurement processes and accessed about R434 million from the respective disaster grants to implement the augmentation and other immediate relief projects.

Of this amount, about R349 million was transferred during the 2017/18 financial year and about R85 million will be transferred from the provincial disaster grant during the 2018/19 financial year.

Building resistance

Assessments conducted by the national joint drought coordinating committee in May showed that the acute phase of the drought in the Western Cape, Eastern Cape, Northern Cape and some smaller pockets in the country is at its end and was now entering the resilience-building phase.

The resilience-building phase was the key focus of dealing with drought as a concern for adaptation to climate change. This entailed improving the identification, funding, coordination and management of projects aimed at reducing vulnerability to drought.

To achieve this, the committee would broaden its focus beyond the continual monitoring of resilience-building projects to include focussed projects aimed at the identification and implementation of disaster risk reduction projects such as:

• Augmenting the water supply to levels where future demand can be met without imposing restrictions;

• Mainstreaming water conservation and demand management within communities to reduce consumption per capita to that of international norms;

• Adapting farming practices aimed at mitigating the effects of drought and increasing the resilience of the farming sector;

• Performing research to find implementable adaptable solutions to increase resilience to drought, for example, developing alternative resilient crop seeds that are drought tolerant and heat tolerant;

• Re-evaluating and reinforcing drought policies across government by incorporating the lessons learned during the acute phase of the drought;

• Addressing backlogs and fast tracking the implementation of bulk water projects and;

• Deploying existing local government recovery plans, community work programme, municipal infrastructure support agent and maintenance to eliminate water losses.

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