Cape Town's main water supply from the Theewaterskloof dam outside Grabouw, Cape Town. Picture: AP Photo/Bram Janssen

Cape Town - The drought that has gripped the Western Cape and other provinces has officially been declared a national disaster.

The announcement was made at a briefing by the interministerial task team on Drought and Water Scarcity in Parliament on Tuesday morning. 

"Today we are announcing the declaration of the drought as a national state of disaster," the task team said.

"The drought in South Africa is, in some provinces, showing no signs of abatement.

"Reports show that draught and water scarcity has had a negative impact on all sectors of the economy such as livestock production, crop production, industrial and processing, tourism, food security, water supply, trade balance to mention but a few. It on this basis that in 2016 the Bureau for Food and Agricultural Policy noted that the impacts of droughts conditions cannot be considered in isolation from global markets and the wider macro-economic environment in which the country’s agricultural sector functions.

"Three provinces which are extremely affected - Western Cape, some parts of the Northern Cape and Eastern Cape provinces are not yet showing comforting signs of improvement.

"The manifestations of the drought can still be discerned in hydrological, agricultural and socio-economic impacts, driven by declining meteorological conditions, which are recorded to be the lowest since 1926. At this stage there is no indication to support rainfall that is
more than twenty five miliemeters (25mm) for the Western and Northern Cape provinces, except perhaps a low likelihood along the south coastal areas.

"The Western Cape is a winter rainfall region. It is expected that some rains will start coming as early as April. Measures taken to mitigate the situation in the province have notably started to bear fruit; these include curtailment and restrictions.

"According to the report released by the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS), South Africa’s dams have last week, 06 March 2018, seen an improvement by a fraction of a percent (0.2%) compared to their levels a week before. The Department indicated that 'the levels went up from 63,2 percent to 63,4 percent'," the taks team said. 

It was crucial to "adopt integrated planning and coordinated implementation to ensure the effectiveness and efficiency of the overall drought response effort", the task team said, and in this regard, the National Joint Drought Coordinating Committee (NJDCC), convened by the National Disaster Management Centre was established to "provide the technical platform for cooperative governance by providing a forum for coordination and management of the drought by a wide range of stakeholders".

The forum was to meet on Tuesday and Wednesday. 

The declaration of a national disaster is not primarily aimed at requesting additional funding, the task team said, but was rather for "activating extra-ordinary measures, which might include funding, based on the need and other relevant conditions to address the impact of such a disaster". 

Financial and technical resources should be mobilised by all spheres of government, the private sector, NGOs and communities to implement measures to recover from the drought.

The government would be actioning the following points in response to the declaration of a national disaster. 

1. The National Joint Drought Coordination Committee (NJDCC) will meet monthly and continue coordinating integrated multi-sectoral intervention measures to address the drought situation in the affected provinces.
2. All sectors will mobilise their resources and implement relevant sectoral programmes to deal with drought in an integrated and coordinated manner to avoid duplication of efforts.
3. The development of an integrated water conservation model will be pursued through multi-sectoral engagements under the suspices of the Inter-Ministerial Task Team on Drought and Water Scarcity.
4. The country will work hard to enhance the weather forecasting capacity to ensure impact-based early warning services to enhance public knowledge and safety from weather related incidents. This will be done under the leadership of the South African Weather Services.
5. A team of research experts will be constituted to carry out on-going research and provide evidence-based interventions taking into account the prevailing and emerging disaster risk scenarios;
6. National and provincial government will continue to work with municipalities to respond effectively to the water crisis.
7. COGTA will strengthen its Back to Basics programme to support municipalities to improve water management. This includes intensifying
maintenance programmes to reduce water losses as well as the refurbishment and replacement of infrastructure.
8. The sectors will continue activating their climate change adaptation strategies and plans to support municipalities within the provinces.
9. We will continue with the implementation of the “War on Leaks” programme where communities report all the water leaks. Municipalities must act by repairing the leaking pipes.
10. The IMTT will continue to regularly consider reports received from the National Joint Disaster Coordination Committee on measures being put in place to improve coordination and deployment of resources for response and recovery from the drought disaster, and to provide political guidance.

"With regards to funding, Government stands ready to provide financial assistance where necessary and subject to legal prescripts," the task team said. 

The task team reiterated that South Africa is a water scarce country and that the effects of climate change should not be overlooked. 

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Cape Argus