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A recent photo of the Tzaneen Dam when its level was at 7%.

Disaster looms as dam levels drop

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Amidst a national water crisis with farmers suffering from the effects of a severe drought that prompted residents of the city and other centres to dispatch donations of food and other aid packages to drought stricken areas, the average dam levels in Limpopo have dropped to below 50% and may result in the implementation of strict water conservation measures that may have a devastating effect on the economy and food production of the province as such.
The latest report by the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) reflects that the overall dam levels in Limpopo have declined from 50,5% to 49,8%. Of particular concern is the Tzaneen Dam where the level has dropped from 7,2% last week to 6,3% this week and there are fears that unless it rains heavily in the next two weeks the province’s citrus industry may be severely affected.
Spokesperson for the Department of Agriculture in Limpopo, Joshua Kwapa confirmed on Wednesday that an amount of R9 million has been allocated to drill boreholes and construct earth dams in drought stricken areas and that a further R3 million will be availed to assist farmers to purchase livestock food. Kwapa could not provide details of aid that was provided to farmers in the previous drought period.
Also alarming is the water situation in Giyani which is a stone’s throw away from Tzaneen. Its main source of water, the Middel-Letaba Dam, is virtually empty at 3,2%. However, the Construction Unit of the Department of Water and Sanitation is currently in the area to continue with the construction of a pipeline that will supply water to Giyani from Nandoni Dam.
The average levels of dams in the Polokwane water supply system dropped to 48% from 48,9% in the previous week, although the levels of the Dap Naudé Dam that is one of the main sources of water to the city as well as the Magoebaskloof Dam were respectively at 93,7% and 81%. The levels of the Luvuvhu water supply system is currently at 83,8% this week showing a decline compared to last year this time when the reading was at 94%. These dams, however, is only providing a fraction of the water required by the agricultural community and most of the other dams are at very low levels.
In addition, a Ministerial National Rapid Response Task Team identified Giyani among several hotspots in the country where intervention should be urgently implemented.
Other hotspot areas were identified in the Eastern Cape, Northern Cape and North West where the drought have led to extremely dry conditions. In Limpopo the areas include Mogalakwena, Modimolle, Bela-Bela, Thabazimbi and Polokwane, according to the report.
The report further paints a bleak picture of the water situation in the North West and Eastern Cape provinces where the dam levels have also dropped below 50%. Parts of the Eastern Cape are already experiencing severely dry conditions that have prompted the provincial government to declare it natural disaster areas.
The Minister of Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation, Lindiwe Sisulu, recently allayed fears of a looming national drought whilst imploring water users to conserve water. The Minister appealed to South Africans across the spectrum to do whatever was necessary to ensure that water is conserved. “There will not be a need for water shedding if water consumers adhere to calls to save water,” Sisulu said.
It is imperative that the public should understand that key to the sustainability of water availability and to avert the imposition of stringent water restrictions is a change of attitude towards water use.
Board Director of the agricultural organisation Saai and also a farmer in Limpopo, Theo de Jager says that mega farmers had to restructure their programmes and close down some units. “It is, however, the smaller farmers that are the most affected because they do not have a buffer to carry them through this drought that is the worst since 1992,” De Jager said and added that the drought affects the whole economy of the area. “Businesses in the smaller towns are affected in particular because of the declining buying power resulting from the loss of jobs,” De Jager reckoned.

Story: BARRY VILJOEN
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