Consumers in KwaZulu-Natal could end up paying more for food and other products if the drought and falling dam levels persist, the farmers associations in the province has said.

Experts say the uThukela River, the largest in the province and one of SA’s most important, is drying up at an alarming rate, putting the economic activities and sustainability of rural northern KwaZulu-Natal communities at risk.

Other rivers in the province have not been spared. According to figures released by water utility Umgeni many of the river levels have decreased. The Umgeni water system is at 63.7%, Hazelmere Dam at 39.3%, Inanda Dam at 65.7% and Means Dam at 74.0%.

Some communities in the north of the province are in dire straits, forcing their municipalities to use mobile water tanks to complement the dwindling supplies.

uMkhanyakude district municipality is in the process of drilling a number of boreholes to supply drought-hit areas.

Agri SA executive director Omri van Zyl said the drought is a national emergency.

“It’s going to have a direct effect on consumer prices. It’s going to have an effect on food affordability. It has an effect on the farmers on the land,” Van Zyl said.

Earlier this year, Agri SA said the agricultural sector has shed more than 30,000 jobs since January 2018 and the sector needed at least R3bn in financial assistance from the government to keep the remaining jobs and farming sector sustainable during the drought.

Mandla Buthelezi, KwaZulu-Natal head of the National African Chamber of Commerce (Nafcoc) and the provincial leader of the National Farmers Union (Nafu), said they are worried about the state of affairs.

“I have visited many farmers in KZN and the Eastern Cape and they say due to lack of adequate rains they cannot plough their [fields]. It is now the end of September but we have had no rains.

“If this situation continues … the main victims would be consumers who would have to fork out more for vegetables, fruits, meat and other products if the yields are too low,” he said.

Faizal Bux, director of the Durban University of Technology’s Institute For Water and Wastewater Technology, said the situation looks dire and the crisis that hit the province and the country a few years ago could recur.

Similar conditions such as erratic rains and weather patterns, climate change and increased migration to the cities are prevalent, he said.

“Many of the rivers are not looking good,” Bux said.

Erratic weather patterns have occurred in the last few years, in which “we get excessive amounts of rain in short periods, but sometimes we don’t get any rain at all, resulting in droughts”.

Climate change is “one of the major contributing factors”, he said.

Regarding consumption of water from rivers, “water levels are very low … and we have not gotten any of the rainfall we had expected in this region”, Bux said.

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