Background to current drought situation in South Africa
South Africa is a semi-arid to arid country with a highly variable climate with highly constrained freshwater resources. These limited water resources are affected by weather extremes imposed by climate variability and change. Drought, which is currently devastating parts of the country, is a recurrent characteristic feature of the country's highly variable climate and weather extremes. It is one of the most devastating natural disasters worldwide whose socio-economic impact tend to be severe in regions with an annual rainfall of less than 500 mm. South Africa's annual average rainfall is approximately 450 mm and this makes this country prone to recurrent droughts.
South Africa's climate is characterised by periods of wet spells also called La Niña (years receiving above-normal rainfall) and dry spells also called El Niño (years receiving below-normal rainfall). Scientic analysis of rainfall data has shown that South Africa experiences spells of either predominantly wet years or spells of predominantly dry years, and these spells have not affected regions of this country exactly the same or equally. For instance, in 2009 to 2011 the Southern Cape Region was devastated by a severe drought while the rest of the country generally received above normal rainfall. The severity of the Southern Cape drought was implied by the interacting risk drivers that had progressively escalated the risk of a widespread water shortage. These drivers included greatly increased water consumption prior to the onset of meteorological drought conditions, both in agriculture and in rapidly growing coastal towns. Prior to the drought emergency in this region, the water resource development had not kept pace with rising demand, there was no rigorous water conservation and demand management, and there was a lack of systematic drought risk management planning. Climate variability and changing weather conditions were noted as key risk drivers, but there were no accompanying indicators that would have allowed for early signal detection and possible early action. Read more