Farmers around KwaZulu-Natal are hoping fervently that the rain that has fallen in parts of the province since Saturday night will spell the end of a period of drought that is threatening to ruin many of them.
Inadequate rainfall earlier this year and the delayed spring rains have resulted in rivers drying up and dam levels falling to crisis levels.
Farmers are suffering losses as crops wilt and animals struggle without adequate feed. And if the situation does not improve, eThekwini residents face water restrictions for the first time in 30 years.
Operational meteorologists are predicting very low rainfall in KZN until at least January. For Umgeni Water, this means there is not enough water for the eThekwini Metro, Msunduzi Municipality and the uMgungundlovu, iLembe, Ugu and Harry Gwala District municipalities.
According to Mervin Govender, water networks manager for eThekwini Water and Sanitation, the effects of the drought were already being felt in the middle South Coast region – also called the Mzinto System.
The levels of the three dams in that region – the EJ Smith, Nungwane and Umzinto, have fallen to crisis levels. The EJ Smith is currently at 11 percent of capacity, Nungwane at 32 percent and Umzinto at 29 percent.
Hazelmere Dam drops to 51%
He said the level of the Hazelmere Dam (in Verulam) had dropped to 51 percent as rivers in the catchment area dried up.
According to Govender, levels in the Mngeni System were adequate for now. This system supplies eThekwini, uMgungundlovu, the northern Ugu District, and Pietermaritzburg.
However, a meeting was held last week between Umgeni Water and eThekwini Water to discuss introducing level 1 water restrictions (a 10 percent reduction in water consumption) to conserve water.
Umgeni Water has already taken out advertisements in major newspapers urging consumers to save water. However, in some areas there is not enough water to save. And farmers fear they will be out of business if the rains don’t come in sufficient quantities.
Last night’s rainfall was a sign of hope, but it will need to be sustained in the weeks to come to forestall further crises.
Mike Black, president of the KZN Agricultural Union, said the drought had reached critical proportions in the province.
Sheep and cattle farmers relied on natural veld to graze their animals, but with no rain there was no new growth. Furthermore, rivers had run dry and there was no drinking water.
No hay available
“Unfortunately, there is no hay available for sale. In June, many farmers donated hay to the East Griqualand farmers who were affected by fires. They were counting on normal rainfall patterns, but the rain has not come.”
Black said small-scale rural farmers, who keep only a few head of cattle, were watching their livestock die as a result of hunger and dehydration. With water levels low or having dried up altogether, farmers have been unable to irrigate.
“We received reports that farmers could not plant vegetables due to a lack of irrigation water. This could result in shortages and high prices.”
Black said the drought was so severe that timber farmers were reporting that trees were dying in some KwaZulu-Natal plantations.
Scot Scott, a leading South Coast banana and sugar farmer, said unless 25mm of rain fell this week, the sugar industry “will be in a very bad position indeed”.
“The low rainfall is having a massive impact. The cane supply to both mills on the South Coast – Sizela, south of Pennington, and the Umzimkulu Mill, at Port Shepstone – is dramatically lower than usual. At Sizela, it has dropped by as much as 30 percent, and around 20 percent at Umzimkulu.
“Our mills receive around 60 percent of their cane from inland plantations, and 40 percent from coastal farms. If rain falls in the next few days, as meteorologists have predicted, then the coastal plantations will recoup faster.
“But inland they are going to incur heavy losses, because they have already lost six to seven months of their growth cycle. All the sugar mills in the province will be affected.
Scott said that the situation on banana plantations was critical, owing to water shortages.
“Those farmers with irrigation are running on very low levels of water supply – critically so. Some rivers are not flowing any more.”
Hendrik Botha, the chairman of both the Red Meat Producers’ Board and the National Wool Growers’ Association, is worried about the situation.
“The biggest problem is that a very large area of East Griqualand was affected by devastating fires in June. If we get rain, within two weeks the entire picture will change and we will have plentiful grazing, but at the moment the situation is desperate.”
By Vivian Attwood. Source: IOL News