Western Cape declared disaster area

By Jessica Anne Wood

The persistent drought has seen Western Cape Premier Hellen Zille declared the province a disaster area. In a statement released on Monday, Zille noted that this is the worst drought crisis since 1904.

“The disaster declaration will accelerate the Western Cape Disaster Management Centre’s Project ‘Avoiding Day Zero’, the Province’s strategy to ensure that taps do not run dry,” said Zille.

The declaration was signed by Zille during a Cabinet meeting last week and will be formally gazetted this week. The disaster will be classified for three months, but may be extended if there is no relief to the current drought conditions.

Reprioritisation of funding

Under the disaster declaration, the Disaster Management Act allows the provincial government to reprioritise funding to protect key frontline service delivery points.

The statement highlighted that project “Avoiding Day Zero” has three focus areas:

  1. Demand management – managing the current water supply from the respective sources.
  2. Winter conservation – ensuring that water resources are properly managed, despite a rise in dam levels during the rainy season. This avoids a disaster during the dry months.
  3. Groundwater management – ensuring the proper management of groundwater sources like boreholes or the Table Mountain aquifer.

“Government will prioritise interventions based on the provincial Drought Risk Register. Provincial Disaster Management will focus on the most critical aspects of that list. Funding will be reprioritised provincially and, should further assistance be needed, the province will approach National Treasury and the National Department of Water and Sanitation,” highlighted Zille.

Immediate interventions

In the coming days, Provincial Disaster Management highlighted that the following immediate interventions will be taken:

  • The drilling of boreholes at hospitals, starting in the metro, to be followed by schools in high-risk water scarce areas.
  • Expediting the Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) for testing a mobile desalination plant using existing water inlet flows used for the reactors at the Koeberg site and drilling into the Table Mountain aquifer.
  • Appointing groundwater specialists in each district. The specialists will identify main ground water sources and coordinate the exploration and management of these resources going forward.
  • Assessing the state of water restrictions in the respective municipalities – while local councils remain responsible for making area-specific decisions, the disaster declaration enables the Province to issue instructions for any changes to these restrictions that may be necessary in each locality.

“Our government wishes to assure the public that the declaration is no cause to panic. A disaster declaration enhances control by affording the Province additional powers of intervention. We urge all residents to continue with the current water saving measures and to adhere to restrictions imposed in their respective municipalities. While it remains a cause for concern, we believe the current drought is an opportunity to innovate and act responsibly in the way we make use of our water resources,” highlighted Zille.

The progress so far

Among the many interventions already implemented to help reduce water consumption, the City of Cape Town recently announced that properties valued at more than R400 000 would soon stop receiving free water and be charged from the first drop. While this may incentivise many people to lower their water consumption, many consumers will still be forking out more each month on their water bill.

To further help curb excessive water usage, the City has also fined consumers who are found to use excessive amounts of water. Households that are found to be in contravention of the water restrictions, such as using municipal water to water gardens outside of the allocated times or to fill swimming pools have also been fined.

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