Cape Town working to become resilient to climate change amid warnings as warm El Niño looms

Published Aug 19, 2023


The South African Weather Service has advised that The El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) is currently in an El Niño state and, according to the latest predictions, is expected to persist through South Africa most of the summer months.

South African climate experts have called on governments, businesses and communities to increase their awareness of the pending El Niño that is currently manifesting in the central Pacific Ocean.

El Niño and La Niña are the warm and cool phases of a recurring climate pattern across the tropical Pacific – the ENSO.

Speaking at the El Niño 2023 Summit held at the University of Pretoria, CSIR senior researcher and ACCESS Director, Dr Neville Sweijd, emphasised the need for early preparation in anticipation of the potential impacts of the 2023 El Niño in South Africa and its neighbouring countries.

Dr Sweijd added, “What is different and concerning this year is that published data are showing that global average sea surface temperatures have reached unprecedented levels in May and June 2023, and already this means that the El Niño is likely to be unusually strong.”

He said in the past ( 2015/16), the impact was severe, and although they cannot say yet that this season will be equally affected, we must pre-empt the potential impact.

“It is quite unpredictable by nature, but there is a general pattern that researchers in South Africa have been studying,” Dr Sweijd said.

Gemma Bluff, Senior Climatologist at Umvoto Africa, said the El Niño would have a negative impact on the South African agricultural sector in general in the summer rainfall regions due to drought conditions threatening water supplies and crop growth, resulting in poor harvests and stress to livestock.

“There is a good chance of a negative economic impact on farmers and farm workers and the South African economy as whole due to reduced agricultural exports and rising food prices, as well as impact on food security within South Africa. The latter may become especially problematic with grain shortages caused by the Ukraine-Russia war,” she further explained.

She advised that if farmers have not already not done so, farmers need to become more self-sufficient in their water supply, where possible, accessing alternative irrigation water sources such as groundwater.

Bluff said, “This could include previously unexplored groundwater resources (if present) that might have been considered brackish or saline in the past, which may be utilised through treatment or through growing salt tolerant crop types. Less intensive, water-sensitive irrigation methods should be implemented to utilise water as sparingly as possible, in association with other water conservation and water demand management measures wherever possible.”

Mayco Member for Water and Sanitation, Councillor Zahid Badroodien, said due to climate change, Cape Town has learnt that we cannot solely rely on dams for water security in future, so the City is investing in its New Water Programme (NWP), which includes projects such as desalination, groundwater schemes and reuse.

“This is part of the City's long-term Water Strategy to help reduce Cape Town's dependence on rainfall and dam storage as our primary water supply to navigate future climate shocks and droughts”, said Badroodien.

He further stated the City is working towards increasing supply by an extra 300 million litres of new water everyday by 2030.

He said, “Each of the projects are at different stages of development. This is over and above the current interventions to ensure optimal water use and will assist in enabling Cape Town to become resilient to climate change.”

Badroodien stated over this financial year alone, the City plans to invest R604 million on major projects which form part of the NWP.

Weekend Argus

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