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By Sibusiso Ngwala
The incidence of cholera and malaria in South Africa is likely to increase dramatically during the next 50 years because of the effects of global warming.
This is a warning from Professor Roland Schulze, of the University of KwaZulu-Natal's School of Bioresources, Engineering in Pietermaritzburg.
People should begin preparing now to deal with global warming, Schulze warned, because there were already indications that climate change was affecting the country.
Schulze and other scientists - from the universities of Cape Town, Witwatersrand and Pretoria - are conducting research on the potential effects of climate change on South Africa's agricultural and water resources.
This joint project is funded by the Water Research Commission. The first phase of the study will be completed in April next year.
Global warming is the phenomenon caused by increased levels of certain gases, such as carbon dioxide, in the atmosphere, resulting in higher than normal temperatures.
"Climate changes have already been recorded in South Africa. We are likely to see more floods and droughts."
People would experience temperature extremes - both higher and lower - than before, Schulze said. Higher temperatures would lead to increased evaporation in dams, and this would result in a rise in diseases such as bilharzia, cholera and malaria.
Farmers would not be spared from this phenomenon, Schulze said. While the production of certain crops would decrease, the growing of some crops would have to shift outright to other areas.
"Climate change will not happen equally everywhere. Some areas will be more vulnerable than others," he said.
"For instance, our first results show that Western Cape will lose 10 percent of its water resources during the next 10 years. We should start adapting now because it will be more expensive to do so in the future.
"We should adapt by making policy changes and by managing our water resources more efficiently. We also need to do research now to better understand the future," he said.
South Africa's water was rated among some of the best in the world in terms of quality - a standard that was likely to drop in the future, Schulze said.
He works closely with the department of water affairs and forestry.
Schulze and colleague Manju Maharaj, assisted by some of their students, wrote the book South African Atlas of Agrohydrology and Climatology.
It contains a wealth of information for decision-makers in the fields of water resources and agriculture, and identifies optimum areas for farming crops, timber and livestock.
Schulze said the atlas, published in 1997, was the most comprehensive climatology atlas in Africa. A new edition is expected to be released next year.