24 January 2005

R2 million Probe for Water Sources

The Western Cape government has set aside R2 million for an urgent investigation into alternative water sources, including evaluating desalination and the use of other aquifers.

President Thabo Mbeki will also be approached today by the provincial government to declare drought-stricken parts of the Western Cape disaster areas.

And the provincial cabinet has adopted a strict approach to enforce the three-metre firebreak rule in informal settlements.

Premier Ebrahim Rasool yesterday described the cabinet's first meeting for the year as a "floods, fires and drought" meeting.

'Desalination and other aquifers will be evaluated'

"Discussions were dominated by disasters, natural and otherwise, over the last while. One of the longest discussions we had was about the drought and where we are going to with agriculture," he said.

Some Western Cape farmers are running out of drinking water in the second consecutive dry spell. Drought-stricken areas include the area north of Vredendal, Bitterfontein, the Cederberg region, the Rooi-Karoo in the Piketberg region, Ceres and surrounding areas as well as parts of Beaufort West, Murraysburg and Touws River.

In the metropole thousands of Joe Slovo residents were displaced at the weekend after a devastating fire.

Rasool said the provincial government had noted the increasingly evidence of climate changes. Research conducted by UCT's Climate Analysis department had shown that rain patterns are changing, with longer dry periods interspersed by shorter concentrated periods of rain.

"The impact of this on the Western Cape in terms of water sources, crops, flora and fauna, economic and infrastructural planning, energy needs and attitudes must be understood and integrated in all provincial activities."

He said only one more dam could be built in the province, which would be on the Olifants River, which will then exhaust the province's current surface water catchment abilities. "We are in for long-term climatic changes, therefore this province will have to drive a process to lay the basis for long-term alternatives.

"An amount of R2 million has thus been allocated to conduct an urgent investigation into alternative water resources, including the evaluation of desalination and other aquifers as a response to the impact global warming is having. The province's alignment with the Kyoto protocols will form part of this assessment," Rasool said.

Declaring parts of the drought-stricken areas in the province disaster areas would pave the way for the government to raise an additional R26m to supplement the feed of livestock and facilitate keeping farmworkers on farms, Rasool said.

"The R26m is absolutely critical, otherwise livestock will just die.

Farmers continue to remain a vital part of the Western Cape economy. The department of social services and poverty alleviation as well as agriculture will conduct a social assessment of the extent of the needs of farmworkers for assistance to sustain livelihoods."

Asked how the government will enforce the three-metre firebreak rule between shacks in informal settlements, MEC for local government and housing Marius Fransman said a massive public awareness campaign would be embarked upon.

"The police services, community organisations and ward committees will assist to make sure the rule is enforced. A renewed awareness campaign about the firebreaks will be started in communities."

Rasool said that law enforcement would be used as a last resort and suggested that shacks be built in blocks which are three metres apart, thereby effectively creating roads.

"The cost of enforcing the three-metre rule and maintaining fire hydrant access will be less than the expected cost of R10m that government will incur in direct response to the Joe Slovo fire alone."

He added that the government would sign an accord with communities to adhere to the three-metre firebreak rule.

Details about a multi-faith day of prayer for rain led by Rasool, will be announced soon.


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