The drought affecting the Eastern Cape is growing more dire by the day. Still, Premier Oscar Mabuyane refuses to declare the province a disaster area.
Years of requests to the Premier and the national departments of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA) and the Department of Water Affairs (DWA), to take action and address the growing water crisis in the province, have fallen on deaf ears.
The Democratic Alliance is now asking the people of the Eastern Cape to add their voices to the call for the province to be declared a drought disaster area.
Today myself, the DA Leader in the Provincial Legislature, Bobby Stevenson, MPL, and Shadow MEC for COGTA, Vicky Knoetze, MPL, launched the Drought Disaster Area petition.
Declaring the province a drought disaster area will enable the provincial government to lobby for additional relief funding from the national government, which can be used to put critical drought mitigation measures in place.
Despite recent rains, the impact on dam levels has been negligible. As of yesterday, 17 May 2021, the collective dam levels supplying Nelson Mandela Bay are now at a staggeringly low 12.32%.
The Kouga Dam is at 4.29% and will soon reach a point where water can no longer be extracted!
When this happens, the Kouga municipality will lose its main water supply. KwaNobuhle in Nelson Mandela Bay will have no water at all. Farmers in the Gamtoos valley will no longer be able to water their citrus orchards, which could have a long-term catastrophic impact on the region as producing trees could be lost.
The Dr Beyers Naude municipality has been dealing with extreme drought for the past five years, with the Nqweba Dam levels continuing to plummet, and are now at just 8.4%.
Elsewhere, commercial and emerging farmers in Willowmore, Rietbron, Steytlerville, Jansenville, Graaff-Reinet, Bedford and Tarkastad, among others, are facing severe water challenges. Many of these farmers have depleted their savings and are facing financial ruin because they have been feeding their livestock for extended periods of time.
Alarm bells for this impending disaster have been ringing for a decade. In 2011 the provincial government was given a blueprint on what was needed to mitigate the risks of climate change, and they did nothing!
The provincial government has failed to place pressure on the DWA to augment the bulk water supplies to the province.
We should be upgrading our water infrastructure that supports the Gariep-Fish Scheme, for example, which loses up to a quarter of the water it carries due to earthen canals.
There is no financial support to the Great Fish River Water User Association, which has to maintain its network of canals from its own resources.
The DWA must upgrade ageing infrastructure across the province, to ensure greater efficiency.
Ironically, when Premier Mabuyane declared the last provincial disaster area because of the drought, in October 2019, the combined dam levels supplying Nelson Mandela Bay were at 35.55%, and the Kouga Dam was at 35.32%.
At the time, the Premier failed to extend the declaration before it lapsed in January 2020, even though drought conditions continued to worsen on the western side of the province.
The DA is calling on all residents to add their voices to the call for Premier Mabuyane to take action and declare the province a drought disaster area.
This debilitating drought is one of the greatest threats to the people and economy of the Eastern Cape and a concerted, coordinated effort is needed to address the ongoing challenges it poses.
The government needs to act now if there is to be any hope to save our province and its people from this ongoing drought disaster.