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Western Cape declared a disaster area as 'Day Zero' looms

Western Cape
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A vastly depleted Theewaterskloof Dam as seen earlier this month. It is Cape Town's largest supplier of water. Picture: Water from Air
Cape Town – Western Cape Premier Helen Zille on Monday officially declared the Western Cape a disaster area in response to the current drought crisis – the worst in more than a century.

“The disaster declaration will accelerate the Western Cape Disaster Management Centre’s Project ‘Avoiding Day Zero’, the Province’s strategy to ensure that taps do not run dry,” Zille said in a statement.

According to a statement from Zille’s office, the declaration will be formally gazetted during the course of this week after being signed by the Premier during a Cabinet meeting last week.

The disaster will be classified for a three-month period which can be extended if the need arises.

According to Zille’s office, during a disaster classification, the Disaster Management Act empowers the provincial government to protect key frontline service delivery points by reprioritising funding.

It said that Project “Avoiding Day Zero”, led by the Western Cape’s Provincial Disaster Management Centre (PDMC), had three focus areas:

— Demand management – managing the current water supply from the respective sources;

— Winter conservation – ensuring that water resources are properly managed, despite a rise in dam levels during the rainy season. This avoids a disaster during the dry months; and

— Groundwater management – ensuring the proper management of groundwater sources like boreholes or the Table Mountain aquifer.

“Government will prioritise interventions based on the provincial Drought Risk Register,” the statement said. “Provincial Disaster Management will focus on the most critical aspects of that list. Funding will be reprioritised provincially and, should further assistance be needed, the province will approach National Treasury and the National Department of Water and Sanitation.”

According to Provincial Disaster Management, the most immediate interventions, in the coming days will be:

— The drilling of boreholes at hospitals, starting in the metro, to be followed by schools in high-risk water scarce areas.

— Expediting the Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) for testing a mobile desalination plant using existing water inlet flows used for the reactors at the Koeberg site, and drilling into the Table mountain aquifer;

— Appointing groundwater specialists in each district. The specialists will identify main ground water sources and coordinate the exploration and management of these resources going forward.

— Assessing state of water restrictions in the respective municipalities – while local councils remain responsible for making area-specific decisions, the disaster declaration enables the Province to issue instructions for any changes to these restrictions that may be necessary in each locality.

It said that during the current declaration period, a provincial inter-ministerial committee – chaired by MEC of Local Government, Environmental Affairs and Development Planning Anton Bredell – will meet regularly to assess immediate threats and recommend interventions.

According to the statement, in the last year, at least R27 million had already been re-prioritised for interventions in areas which were declared local disasters. In January 2016, parts of the West Coast and Central Karoo were declared agricultural drought disaster areas. Hydrological disasters were also declared in Prince Albert, Witzenberg and Oudtshoorn. “Through our interventions, all of these localities are no longer deemed as disaster areas.”

Zille said: “Our government wishes to assure the public that the declaration is no cause to panic. A disaster declaration enhances control by affording the Province additional powers of intervention.

“We urge all residents to continue with the current water saving measures and to adhere to restrictions imposed in their respective municipalities,” Zille added. “While it remains a cause for concern, we believe the current drought is an opportunity to innovate and act responsibly in the way we make use of our water resources.”

African News Agency

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