Maverick Citizen: Eastern Cape

Eastern Cape breaks drought records — with no end in sight

By Estelle Ellis 5 December 2019
Drought plagues the Eastern Cape as Impofu Dam levels drop. (Photo: Estelle Ellis)

Long-term forecasts for summer rain to break the devastating drought in the Eastern Cape do not look promising, according to the South African Weather Service.

Data gathered for the spring season show record low rainfalls in the province and record high temperatures — with Graaff-Reinet one of the hardest-hit towns. Despite the heat and the drought, residents of several Karoo towns have been given access to clean drinking water through the work of Gift of the Givers.

Dr Imtiaz Sooliman from Gift of the Givers says a team led by hydrologist Oom Gideon Groenewald has so far found and set up eight boreholes in drought-hit Graaff-Reinet, all producing drinkable water. The team is busy with a ninth borehole.

He said they had also drilled and found drinkable water in Adelaide:

“We also drilled for five more [boreholes] in Adelaide. Two we handed over to farmers with more than 200 labourers and three are being used to supply water to the community. All these boreholes are producing drinkable water. Oom found water for us in four places in Bedford. All produced drinkable water and another one in Middelburg.”

He said Gift of the Givers had also sunk 15 boreholes in Makhanda, with 14 producing drinkable water.

“We have moved 40 water tanks to Graaff-Reinet, 40 to Adelaide and 10 to Makhanda,” Sooliman said.

Sooliman that next they would turn their attention to Butterworth and Queenstown, but continue with their work in the other towns.

The Eastern Cape received less than 30% of its usual average spring rainfall between September and November with drought-stricken Graaff-Reinet receiving only 12%, according to statistics released by the South African Weather Service.

Garth Sampson from the Weather Office in Port Elizabeth said the rainfall between September and November was a new record low, and coupled with record-high average maximum temperatures this is contributing to the province’s woes.

“The region as a whole received on average less than 30% of the average rainfall for the spring months (September to November), with Graaff-Reinet the lowest, with 9mm in three months, only receiving 12% of its norm.” Sampson said it had been the second-driest spring on record for Port Elizabeth, with only 86mm of rain falling in three months.

Sampson said it had been the driest spring since 1994 for Molteno (20mm), Elliot (72mm), Cradock (14mm), Fort Beaufort (52mm), Middleton (21mm), Makhanda (36mm) and East London (109mm).

“It was also the driest November on record in Cradock (1mm), Fort Beaufort (6mm), Middleton (1mm) and Makhanda (5mm).”

Coupled with the low rainfall, Sampson said it was the hottest spring on record in many towns in the Eastern Cape including Queenstown (27.4°C), Graaff-Reinet (29°C), Fort Beaufort (28.7°C), Patensie (26.4°C), Port Elizabeth (22.9°C), Grahamstown (23.8°C), Middleton (27.4°C) and Bhisho (25.3°C).

It was the hottest November on record in Fort Beaufort (30.8°C), Bhisho (26°C) and Addo (29.7°C).

“The seasonal forecast for the summer months looks dismal to say the least with below-average rainfall forecast for most of the Eastern Cape region,” said Sampson. He said water should be used sparingly. Eight of the province’s dams have levels of less than 10% of capacity.

Jack van Niekerk from Graaff-Reinet Tourism said Christmas tourism seemed to be down.

“But in saying this, I have to mention that tourism in general in South Africa has been down this year. This normally happens in an election year, but the economy is also having an impact on tourism in general. Thus, the drought is certainly having an impact on visitors to Graaff-Reinet, but it is not the only factor,” said Van Niekerk.

“In light of the ongoing drought, most accommodation establishments have been improvising. Many have either installed water tanks or now have boreholes, or both. We always advise visitors to check with their accommodation, to make sure that there will be sufficient water supply.

“Graaff-Reinet has been receiving its water from boreholes for quite a long time now. We are very lucky in that we still have water as a result of these boreholes supplying the town,” said Van Niekerk.

“Gift of the Givers have also been helping with the drilling of additional boreholes. The Beyers Naude Local Municipality has also recently applied for a licence for the abstraction of groundwater from four new boreholes and seven existing boreholes in the Camdeboo National Park. New pipeline infrastructure will connect the boreholes to existing pipeline infrastructure and the Damkap reservoir,” he said.

Beyers Naude municipal spokesperson Wilca Smith did not respond to a request for comment. MC


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