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Cape Town's main water supply from the Theewaterskloof dam outside Grabouw, Cape Town, Feb. 1, 2018.
Bram Janssen/AP
Environment

Dry Taps, Dead Animals, and Rising Hunger as Southern Africa Feels the Effects of Climate Change


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Southern Africa is experiencing droughts that have led to water shortages, pressing food insecurity, and the deaths of wildlife in Botswana and Zimbabwe.

In Zimbabwe, at least 2 million people are facing starvation as the drought has also affected food production, according to the World Food Programme. While in August, UNICEF released a report warning that the drought is expected to leave close to 5.5 million rural Zimbabweans in need of food and other humanitarian help by April 2020.

As a result of water shortages in South Africa, meanwhile, the country has been forced to implement several measures in a bid to save water.

South Africa's Department of Water and Sanitation released a statement on Oct. 23 encouraging people to “intensify water-saving habits as dam levels are dropping in many parts of the country due to hot weather conditions and lack of rain."

The department also said the water storage in Mpumalanga province has been on the decline for several weeks.

South Africa has been experiencing ongoing droughts and low rainfall since 2015, with the Northern Cape now being the driest province.

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The department said in another statement that rainfall in the Northern Cape has fallen from 60% to 58.9% between Oct. 14 and 22. The province had 71.4% rainfall during the same period in 2018.

But the fall in dam levels isn’t just limited to the Northern Cape and Mpumalanga.

At a media briefing on Oct. 23, the Minister of Human Settlements, Water, and Sanitation, Lindiwe Sisulu, said dam levels across the country have fallen by between 10% and 60% compared to 2018.

“We are working hard to avoid the much-dreaded Day Zero phenomenon and instead we are announcing restrictions on water usage,” Sisulu said.

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“What we’re seeing, like other parts of the globe, is the dry season is getting longer, harsher, and more intense,” she continued. “Climate change is a reality and is affecting South Africa.”

The Day Zero phenomenon referred to by Sisulu is when all water sources in municipalities are shut down and residents collect water from designated collection points.

The impact of climate change is already being felt across Africa, where extreme and unpredictable weather conditions — particularly flooding and droughts — are taking their toll on the environment, wildlife, and on people.

According to 350 Africa, an organisation that campaigns for climate action in Africa, the number of weather-related disasters has doubled over the last 25 years, “resulting in Africa having a higher mortality rate from droughts than any other region.”

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“Climate change will hit Africa hardest so this fight is about climate justice,” it warns. “Many of the poorest Africans, women, and children are already facing more drought, floods, and extreme weather that threaten their livelihoods and push food prices up. The fact is, climate change is going to affect all of us." 

Recent examples of extreme weather include Cyclone Idai, which hit parts of Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Malawi. Meanwhile, Zambia is experiencing its lowest rainfall since 1981.

In recent weeks, the effects of climate change has also led to the deaths of dozens of elephants in Botswana and Zimbabwe.

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More than 100 elephants have died between September and October in Botswana's Chobe National Park, according to the country’s government. Chobe is one of Botswana’s most famous tourist destinations.

“The animals are also travelling long distances in search of food which leaves some highly emaciated, ending in death,” the Ministry of Wildlife said in a statement.

Meanwhile, in Zimbabwe’s biggest national park, Hwange, more than 55 elephants died between September and October.

The spokesperson for the country’s national parks and wildlife management authority, Tinashe Farawo, called the drought and its effects a “dire situation.”