21 January 2005

South Africa needs rain and plenty of it

South Africa needs to pray for rain - and lots of it.

Although Pretoria has seemed fairly wet in recent times, the country faces a critical water shortage. The ongoing drought in large areas is causing dam levels to drop steadily.

According to Agri-South Africa, the only hope is for rain to fall within the next two or three months.

Agri-South Africa says that the past four years have been extremely dry and, despite some rains, the situation has not improved markedly.

The Minister of Water Affairs and Forestry, Buyelwa Sonjica, said on Wednesday that she had grave concerns about the country's water resources.

"Some areas are green and the crops are growing, but that does not reflect a true picture of our country's water situation," she said.

In the Koue Bokkeveld, north of Cape Town, the water table has sunk by around 14m.

Sonjica said the average increase in dam levels in Gauteng, Limpopo, KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga was a mere one percent by the first week of January.

The situation in the Western Cape is deteriorating, with dam levels dropping steadily by as much as 43 percent, resulting in the enforcement of severe water restrictions. "That province faces hardships if rain does not fall soon. Areas that are particularly dry are along the west coast and the Karoo," Sonjica said.

The minister appealed to all water users to use water sparingly and said farmers and other large water users needed to carefully review their commitments and use the resource with the utmost care.

Agri-South Africa President Lourie Bosman said water scarcity had already had a huge impact on agriculture.

"Most of the dams are fairly low and some places have already had restrictions for over a year," he said.

He said the water situation was impacting mostly on sugar cane crops in the Lowveld areas, where water restrictions have been imposed for more than a year, as well as fruit and vegetable crops that need a lot of water.

"We need heavy rains for the level of dams to increase. It is quite critical that we get good rains from now until March," Bosman said.

The dam levels in the Free State, Gauteng, the North West and the Western Cape are lower than a year ago. In the North West province, some dams are recording water levels of between 14 percent and 33 percent.

In Limpopo, three of the main dams are only a third full (the Magoebaskloof dam is, however, at 100 percent).

The Free State's dams are almost empty and the department of water affairs is recording levels there ranging between five percent and 16 percent. Dam levels in Mpumalanga range between 16 percent and 94 percent, with most only being around 37 percent full.


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