Drought is no longer classified as a national disaster in South Africa, a decision that has sparked outcry from the country’s farmers.
South Africa is considered a water-scarce country, and the 30th driest country in the world.
The decision to declassify drought was announced on July 16, after the government re-examined the severity of drought conditions.
In a statement expressing its discontent with the decision, however, agricultural nonprofit Agri SA said: “This type of ill-considered and reactionary announcement by the National Disaster Management Centre boggles the mind.”
Agri SA is a federation of agricultural organisations in South Africa. The organisation promotes the rights and economic interests of the farming industry, and raised concerns that this decision means farmers will have to mitigate the effects of drought themselves without any financial support from the government.
The previous declaration of drought as a national disaster allowed struggling farmers to get money and supplies to feed their animals from the state.
Agri SA said in its statement that the government should do more to support farmers; more so as the country has been experiencing extended periods of droughts that have impacted commercial agriculture.
“The disaster relief of R139 million provided by the government due to the declaration of a national drought is a fraction of the actual cost to the agricultural sector over the past five to eight years,” Agri SA said.
South Africa has been experiencing water shortages since 2015, when delayed rainfalls and decreasing dam levels led to a drought. It was the worst drought in the country since 1982.
As a result two provinces — KwaZulu-Natal and Free State — were declared disaster areas.
Other provinces have also been experiencing water shortages since 2015, most notably Western Cape, where the city of Cape Town experienced severe water shortages that turned its taps dry in 2018.
The Department of Water and Sanitation released a statement in October 2019 encouraging South Africans to use water wisely as dam levels in many parts of the country were dropping.
At the time, the Minister of Human Settlements, Water, and Sanitation, Lindiwe Sisulu, said dam levels across the country had fallen by between 10% and 60% compared to 2018.
Sisulu said there would be water restrictions out in place to avoid “the much-dreaded Day Zero phenomenon”.
Day Zero refers to shutting down all water sources in municipalities, resulting in residents collecting water from designated collection points.
According to Agri SA, the water crisis is still in effect.
“Large parts of the Western, Eastern and Northern Cape continue to suffer from the effects of the longest drought in 100 years,” said Agri SA.
The organisation added: “The drought conditions in many parts of South Africa is still having a severe impact on the sustainability of many farms. Farmers in the Northern Cape, Western Cape, Eastern Cape, and Limpopo are still under threat by the continuous drought.”