Zweli Mkhize. Picture: BUSINESS DAY
Zweli Mkhize. Picture: BUSINESS DAY

SA’s drought crisis is a national disaster, according to Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Zweli Mkhize, who is also responsible for the National Disaster Management Centre.

A provisional allocation of R6bn has been set aside for the 2018-19 financial year for several purposes, including drought relief and to augment public infrastructure investment.

The minister declared the continuing drought in the Western Cape, Eastern Cape and Northern Cape as a national state of disaster considering the effect on all sectors of the economy throughout the country. Industries such as livestock production, crop production, manufacturing and processing, tourism, and food security affected the country’s trade balance, he said.

“It is on this basis that in 2016 the Bureau for Food and Agricultural Policy noted that the impacts of drought conditions cannot be considered in isolation from global markets and the wider macro-economic environment in which the country’s agricultural sector functions.”

Mkhize said SA "should continue to save water, as water is one of the indispensable commodities".

There were no comforting signs of improvement in three of the worst affected provinces: the Western Cape‚ parts of Northern Cape and Eastern Cape. Mkhize said dam levels in the Western Cape were the lowest in the country at 25.5%. Gauteng has the highest dam levels at 92.8%‚ followed by Mpumalanga at 77.9% and the Northern Cape at 67.9%.

He cautioned that despite these higher dam levels, these provinces were not out of the woods in terms of water scarcity.

The DA’s shadow minister of co-operative governance and traditional affairs, Kevin Mileham, said his party welcomed the minister’s declaration gazetted on Tuesday, but questioned why it took so long.

The DA had been calling for the water crisis to be declared a national disaster for the past two years, Mileham said. The water-supply crisis classified as a national disaster in February, though this classification did not provide for the release of disaster relief funds. The declaration now unlocks these funds.

Said Mileham: “All that was left was for the Cabinet to declare the national disaster, after a briefing from the National Disaster Management Centre, which would trigger the release of the much-needed funds to the affected provinces.”