South Africa: Drought leads to failed crops, water shortages
In this Thursday Jan. 7, 2016 photo, a woman arrives to collect stagnant rain water from an unfinished sewerage treatment tank, now used as a well, to do her laundry in Senekal, South Africa where taps and water sources have run dry. Senekal, a small town in South Africa’s rural Free State province, is one of four regions declared disaster areas as a drought dries up South Africa’s heartland—along with much of eastern and southern Africa—bringing with it failed crops and acute water shortages. (AP Photo/Denis Farrell)
The main street of this dusty South African town is lined with empty buckets, marking each residents’ place in line as they wait for their daily water ration to be brought in by unreliable trucks.
Keeping watch over her buckets, Pulaleng Chakela sleeps in a wheelbarrow on the side of the road to save her spot in the line. The 30-year-old wraps herself in a little blanket as temperatures drop overnight, and asks a male friend to sit nearby for safety.
“If I don’t wait here all night, the water will be finished,” she said.
A flatbed truck carrying three 5,000-liter tanks arrived midmorning when temperatures had already reached 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit). Murmurs of relief are soon replaced by angry shouts as residents learn they have been further rationed from filling four buckets to just two. In the chaos, Chakela slips two extra buckets in the line. The situation is so unfair that she feels no guilt, she said.
Chakela is joined by dozens more residents of Senekal, a small town in South Africa’s rural Free State province, one of four regions declared disaster areas as a drought dries up South Africa’s heartland—along with much of eastern and southern Africa—bringing with it failed crops and acute water shortages.
Weather officials said Sunday that just in the past week there have been 11 fatalities from heatstroke in the North West province after a week of record high temperatures.
The drought is a sign of a changing climate the whole region must prepare for, say experts. The El Nino weather phenomenon has returned to southern Africa, marked by delayed rainfall and unusually high temperatures, according to the World Food Program.
The environmental effects of El Nino are expected to last until at least 2017, affecting the food security of 29 million people due to poor harvests, said the WFP report.
The conditions in Senekal should serve as a warning to the rest of region to prepare themselves for the dry years ahead, said Tshepiso Ramakarane, manager of the Setsoto municipality, where Senekal is located.
“For the next 10 to 15 years, the situation is likely to get worse,” he warned, adding that only days of sustained rainfall can solve the town’s woes, despite the occasional scattered shower. “We are in the middle of a crisis.”
Other towns in the district have even less water, but Senekal is in worse shape because of its poor infrastructure and distance from the nearest dam, pointing up the vulnerability of many places in the country to drought due to poor sanitation and running water systems.