South Africa: Follow SADC, and declare drought a national disaster now – Annette Steyn

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The current drought gripping Southern Africa is now affecting 60 million people, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), and has forced the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to declare the drought a regional crisis.

Yet the ANC government erroneously and stubbornly refuses to declare the drought a national disaster, even though almost 34 million South Africans are affected by “moderate to extreme drought”, as per the Department of Water and Sanitation’s report presented in a joint portfolio committee meeting in Parliament earlier this week.

Most worrying at the moment, though, is that if international food aid to the SADC region is provided, it will not be extended to South Africa, due to government not declaring the drought a national disaster. Appreciating the seriousness of this; it is completely inexplicable that government refuses to do the right thing and declare this a national disaster.

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Reports presented in the meeting painted a dire picture of the drought’s effects on South Africans. The Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries said that the preliminary crop estimate for 2016 is the lowest since 2007, 25% lower than 2015, which was in turn 30% less than 2014. Reported livestock losses in seven of the nine provinces stands at 186 340. Only 42 000 of the 246 000 farmers affected by the drought are currently receiving assistance from government, and it is estimated that R12 billion is needed to assist all affected farmers.

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The Department of Water and Sanitation said that it will take at least three years for our dams – currently at an average level of 53.5% compared to 80% this time last year – to return to acceptable levels of operational capacity. It added that rainfall experienced over December/January had no significant effect on dam levels and that below average rainfall and above average heat is expected for at least the next three months.

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According to the South African Weather Service, the whole of Southern Africa will experience more dry spells throughout this century, and dry spells will last longer. Inland area temperatures are projected to be on average more than 4 Degrees Celsius above the 1986-2005 average in the period between 2017 and 2100. This goes up to 6 degrees for the Gauteng area. Towards the end of the century, rain is regularly going to start coming later in the season and in the south western areas will stop earlier in the season.

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This once again shows how hard-working South Africans, many of them living in poverty, or left unemployed due to poor ANC policy choices and the stranglehold of the drought on the economy, are suffering due to government’s failure to prioritise the needs of its people. Government should declare the drought a national disaster, so that a concerted and coordinated effort can be initiated to combat the crippling effects of the drought.

The DA will be contacting the FAO representative in the SADC region to discuss the drought’s impact and possible remedial measures.

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