We're worse off than Cape Town‚ say drought-hit Eastern Cape residents

25 January 2018 - 07:00
By Petru Saal
The Nelson Mandela Bay metro municipality’s combined dam capacity was 25.17% as of Thursday. Spokesman Mthubanzi Mniki said that current water restrictions made provision for 60 litres of water per person‚ per day. File photo.
Image: Thinkstock Images. The Nelson Mandela Bay metro municipality’s combined dam capacity was 25.17% as of Thursday. Spokesman Mthubanzi Mniki said that current water restrictions made provision for 60 litres of water per person‚ per day. File photo.

“People are always talking about Cape Town‚ Cape Town‚ Cape Town because the mother city is a big tourist attraction but we are actually worse off.”

Kirsten Werner‚ who lives at Kragga Kamma in Port Elizabeth‚ is acutely aware of how drought has affected daily life in parts of the Eastern Cape. And it’s not pretty. Shaving and long showers are a distant memory. Neighbours snitch on each other for wasting water.

“Cape Town has other resources that they can tap into‚ we don’t. If the tap is dry‚ the tap is dry‚” he said.

The Nelson Mandela Bay metro municipality’s combined dam capacity was 25.17% as of Thursday. Individually‚ the Kouga dam was at 7.71%‚ Churchill Dam at 18.71%‚ Impofu Dam at 43.47%‚ Loerie Dam at 86.55% and Groendal Dam at 51.80%.

“We have taken the decision to no longer flush for number one. You can only do it for number two. Running taps unnecessarily for brushing teeth and showering is a no-no. We can’t fill up the swimming pool‚ we can’t wash the car. We use minimal water to wash the dishes and you cannot wash every single time there is dishes. You need to let it pile up for a while before you wash it‚” said Werner.

He had tried to stock up on water in case the taps run dry.

“We are actually looking at getting Jojo tanks but it never rains‚ so we cannot use that as an alternative.”

Werner is not afraid to admit that he reports neighbours who flout water restrictions.

“They need to wake up… I report people; that is the end of the line. You can make electricity with a generator but you can’t make water. Without water there is no life‚” he said.

City of Saints’ frequent water outages

Residents of Grahamstown‚ nicknamed the "City of Saints"‚ about 126km away are already accustomed to water interruptions.

“We have frequent water outages and depending on the severity of the repair it could be several days or several hours. It might affect one street or it could affect half the town. When the water comes back on‚ you generally have a lot of silt in the water so the water would be brown or red‚” said resident Ron Weissenberg.

He said the discolouration would last for hours‚ sometimes days‚ forcing his family to rely on rain water tanks to bath. Washing clothes and dishes with discoloured water is a no-no.

Nelson Mandela Bay spokesperson Mthubanzi Mniki said that current water restrictions made provision for 60 litres of water per person‚ per day.

“One of the discussions we are having is the possibility of a day zero approaching. We will be making an announcement soon‚” he said. “The option of desalination plants is something that we will be looking into but as we all know there are serious budget implications when it comes to desalination plants.”

Drought a severe threat to ecosystems

Professor Janine Adams‚ from the Nelson Mandela University‚ said the drought significantly affected ecosystems.

“The drought poses a severe threat to the functioning of ecosystems such as estuaries‚ coastal wetlands‚” she said.

This could be seen in the Seekoei Estuary near Jeffrey’s Bay‚ Paradise Beach and Aston Bay. Estuaries and wetlands were naturally resilient systems if not impacted by humans. But urban development and water abstraction from wetlands had removed their natural ability to recover from droughts. Illegal abstraction of freshwater made the situation worse.

“We are semi-arid country. There are too many people for the available water resources. We can have engineering solutions to store water but often this does not keep up with demand. We need to manage what we have better and we need to use alternative water sources such as desalination and water from recycling‚” said Adams.

Desalination the only solution

Although desalination plants were expensive at first they were the only solution for some areas along the coast‚ she said.

“There is long-term planning both nationally and regionally on securing our water resources but often there is slow implementation. Money is only prioritised for infrastructure development and upgrades when there is crisis such as a drought‚” she added.

Dr Phumelele Gama from the Nelson Mandela University said some parts of the Eastern Cape were more vulnerable to drought due to the landscape and local weather conditions.

“Living in a semi-arid region of the country and the level of entitlement as well as taking for granted the supply of water through modern infrastructure has created a society that thinks less of the scarcity of our water supply in general. If you then impose issues such as changing weather patterns (e.g. climate change) then we realise that it cannot be business as usual and that society’s mindsets need to change‚ and the way municipalities provide water also requires alternative ideas‚” she said.

Brent McNamara‚ a management committee member of Agri Eastern Cape‚ painted a bleak picture for farmers.

“The cashflow for the farmers in the western regions is non-existent. They are borrowing against their commodities‚ wool‚ and mohair. They have over extended their overdraft facilities at the commercial banks. They have already reduced their livestock numbers drastically…even slaughtering their breeding flocks and herds‚” he said.

“Once the drought has broken‚ farmers will be holding back animals to rebuild their flocks and herds resulting in fewer animals to market‚ which could make meat prices rise even further. What we do know is that in the western region of our province‚ for the last 36 months‚ that the rain they had‚ has only been between 20-30% of their average rainfall. Farmers are resilient‚ they will continue to make a plan‚ to survive another day‚ one day at a time‚” said McNamara.

Petrus du Preez farms in the Patensie area near the Kouga Dam.

“The irrigation region around Hankey and Patensie is also facing huge problems‚ because of the extremely low level of water in Kouga Dam – sitting at around 7% of capacity. The local farmers in Patensie‚ Hankey‚ and from the agricultural side took drastic measures to survive. There is no alternative supply except for a small percentage of strong borehole water supplies‚” said Du Preez.

Farmers have no plan for day zero

He and other farmers hope the rains will come as they have no plan for a day zero.

“In the Langkloof‚ farmers’ dams are empty and their apple trees urgently need water during the blossoming process or they face huge losses‚ poor-quality fruit‚ and obviously lower yields‚” he said.

Lucinda Jason‚ who runs a hair salon from home‚ has been forced to ask clients to wash their hair at home.

Karen Ferreira from Sage Rock Grooming dog parlour said‚ “We try to use the water as sparingly as we can. We adapt our services.”