Water drying up in north-eastern Cape

Queenstown - As drought conditions in the north eastern Cape steadily worsen, embattled farmers are faced with fast declining water levels and a lack of feed to nourish already weakened livestock.

On Monday, farmers from various districts, including Lady Grey and Elliot reported steadily worsening conditions.

Eastern Province Agricultural Union manager Rory O'Moore confirmed that the drought was intensifying as farmers faced "abnormal" weather conditions.

No rain has fallen in areas in dire need of moisture.

O'Moore was, however, hopeful. According to the latest weather report rainfall was expected by next week.

In districts devastated by fire in early August, including Ida, Elliot, Ugie and sections of Transkei, farmers were facing a "crisis" situation, and the union was waiting for a government decision on whether the area would be declared a disaster area.

On several farms in the Lady Grey district, farmers were worried that a sudden cold spell might deal a further blow to livestock weakened by the continuing drought.

Ronel Hattingh, a farmer's wife who also travels into adjoining Sterkspruit and Herschel districts as part of a training programme aimed at empowering women, said on Monday the three districts were all battling with water shortages.

"The green feed of many farmers has been exhausted, and rains last fell in March," she said.

Some farmers were being forced to transport feed to the farms, but as this was a costly exercise, not all could do so.

"Some farmers are throwing mealie cobs and leaves in the veld to provide additional sustenance to stock," she said.

Dams were running empty and windmills were struggling to obtain water as underground water levels dropped.

"The farmers have been unable to plough to allow the planting of corn - which means that the December crop will be lost."

Hattingh said farmers continued to hope that rain would fall shortly.

An Elliot farmer, who declined to be named, said the situation was nearing a crisis in the district.

Dams were empty and several farmers were buying feed for sheep and cattle while some were reporting a shortage of household water.

No "real rains" had yet fallen during the winter in the district.

In the Hogsback and nearby Fairford districts, farmers were battling to feed their stock and had started to bring in feed.

Rivers renowned for trout fishing were starting to run low.

In Queenstown, farmer Louis van der Vyver said the drought had not yet reached critical proportions.

Underground water levels had fallen, but several dams still had water and there was enough water for stock.

"Fortunately, this has not yet been an elongated drought, as good rains fell in December and January.

If it does not rain soon, however, we may be facing a very difficult spring," he said. - Sapa

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