Neels Blom Writer at large
Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister, Zweli Mkhize. Picture: SIMPHIWE NKWALI/SOWETAN
Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister, Zweli Mkhize. Picture: SIMPHIWE NKWALI/SOWETAN

The elevation on Tuesday of the water crises in the Western, Northern and Eastern Cape to a national disaster provides for the release of disaster relief funds, but there is doubt whether the funding under existing provisions will be adequate, especially in agriculture.

Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Zweli Mkhize said on Tuesday that a provisional allocation of R6bn for 2018-19 had been set aside for several purposes, not just for drought relief. In the short term, the budget included disaster relief grants for provinces and municipalities of R501m for the year, he said.

The government was concerned about the potential job losses in vulnerable farming communities because of the drought, Mkhize said.

"We are therefore exploring strengthening existing government programmes, including the option of partially mitigating losses by temporarily increasing personnel intake in the Working for Water programme."

But water experts have cast doubt about this approach.

Prof Anthony Turton said that while the relief was welcome, it would not solve the core problem because it fails to recognise that SA is a water-constrained economy. "The inability to recognise this simple fact is a symptom of state failure because the core responsibility of any state is to cushion the citizens and protect the economy from crises."

Prof Mike Muller said it was important to understand that the declaration of a national drought disaster was less about drought and more about bad water management. "In many places, municipal water supply failures are the result of poor management and maintenance."

He said it was clear that supply failures from Cape Town to Nelson Mandela Bay to Giyani, Mangaung and beyond had been due to management failures rather than weather.

Local problems had been aggravated by the failure of the national Department of Water and Sanitation to monitor service provision and provide timely warnings of impending problems, he said.

"Since the department stopped providing reports through monitoring programmes like the Blue Drop, citizens have had little information about the state of their systems and only discover that there are problems when taps run dry.

"More money spent in these circumstances will only serve to hide the problems temporarily rather than fix them ..."

Sputnik Ratau, the spokesman for the Department of Water and Sanitation, said relief funding would be released to municipalities and provinces only after claims had been substantiated.

The Bureau for Food and Agricultural Policy reports that in agriculture in the Western Cape alone, the aggregate farming income has fallen by about R5.9bn from the 2017 season.

The CEO of AgriSA Western Cape, Carl Opperman, said considering the cost of repairing infrastructure which had collapsed because of the drought and to catch up with backlogs, even the full R6bn disaster would not be nearly enough. “As it is, we are not expecting drought relief for anything other than feeding livestock, although the province’s agriculture department has asked government for a R100m relief for dryland farming and an additional R250m to help with the recovery of municipal infrastructure.”

“For the relief in the very short term, farmers in the Western Cape are grateful, but in the longer term much more money will be needed,” said Opperman.

Western Cape farmers were relatively lucky to have lobbied effectively for relief from national government, he said. “Conditions in the Northern and Eastern Cape were similarly dire, but they have governance problems that will interfere with the distribution of relief funds.”

And in a report issued on Monday, ratings agency Moody’s estimated that Cape Town would require up R12.7bn over the next five years.