South Africa Yearns for November Rains as Worst Drought Persists

(Bloomberg) -- South Africa hopes to have enough rain to ease the worst drought in memory as the summer months approach and the government intensifies its relief efforts.

Expected below-normal rainfall conditions are delaying a recovery from an El Nino-induced drought, that persists in most parts of the country, Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Des van Rooyen said Thursday in Cape Town, citing information from the South African Weather Service. However, above-normal rainfall and temperatures may come in the summer-season months of November, December and January, he said. Van Rooyen heads an interministerial team set up to manage the government’s drought-relief plan.

South Africa’s rainfall in 2015 was the lowest since records began in 1904, causing widespread damage to crops and livestock, with rural communities particularly affected. Its farmers will need as much as 16.6 billion rand ($1.1 billion) in the year through March to subsidize feed purchases, a study by the AGRI SA lobby group and others showed earlier this year.

Johannesburg, the nation’s biggest city, tightened water restrictions this week as high spring temperatures and dry weather meant dam levels continued to drop. The Vaal Dam, which supplies Johannesburg and Pretoria, was 34 percent full as of Aug. 22, compared with 65 percent at the same time last year, according to data from the Department of Water and Sanitation. Rain normally returns in spring in central and eastern South Africa after a dry four-month winter period.

Water Deployed

"We are intensifying our relief interventions to distressed areas," Van Rooyen said. “We call on all South Africans to make a concerted effort to save water and use it wisely, as well as take care of the public infrastructure within communities.”

The government has spent 268 million rand on drought relief from its Comprehensive Agricultural Support program. Provinces have made 173 million rand available to assist farmers with animal feed and stock and an additional 198 million rand to help smallholder farmers to continue with provision of livestock feed and watering facilities in year to March.

The Department of Water and Sanitation has deployed water tankers in the North West, KwaZulu-Natal, Free State and Eastern Cape provinces, with about 8 million liters (2.1 million gallons) have been delivered to about 49,200 people.

This year has been the hottest on record, U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change Jonathan Pershing told reporters in Johannesburg Friday. “We anticipate that the next decade will actually be warmer than this one.”