Climate Change & Drought Mitigation & Adaptation Strategies: DWS & DEA update

Water and Sanitation

11 October 2018
Chairperson: Mr M Johnson (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) told the Committee that climate change was greatly impacting South Africa, which was a water-stressed country, and was moving towards scarcity. There was currently less than 1 000 cubic metres of water available per capita. Another unfortunate position was that more than half of the country’s water supply comes from only 8% of the land. Increased water use would contribute to increased water stress, leading to scarcity in the future. The action needed was to manage this problem, taking notes from California and Australia, who find themselves in the same climatic conditions as South Africa, and were better managing their water withdrawal percentages.

The Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) drives climate change policy, and in the policy they were trying move more towards climate resilience. They wanted to be able to anticipate and reduce climate-related risks and be able to reduce inequality and ensure that the vulnerable population were protected from the effects of climate change.

Members were concerned about the need for equitable availability of water to all sections of the community, and referred to the recent drought in the Western Cape where some farmers had adequate water, while poor communities living alongside had none. They also drew attention to the poor state of rivers in rural and township areas, pointing out that clean water was needed for decent living conditions. They asked if technology could provide better ways of dealing with climate change.

Meeting report

Department of Water and Sanitation: Climate change and drought mitigation

Dr Chris Moseki, Specialist Scientist: Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS), said that South Africa was one of the driest countries in the southern hemisphere. Only 9% of rainfall feeds rivers as runoff, while only 4% recharges groundwater storage. South Africa was a water-stressed country that was approaching water scarcity. Another issue that South Africa faces was the natural occurrence of evaporation, together with little rainfall. This then results in low runoff and low recharge. Another unfortunate position was that more than half of South Africa’s water supply comes from only 8% of the land. Increased water use would contribute to increased water stress, leading to scarcity in the future. The action was to manage this problem, taking notes from California and Australia, who find themselves in the same climate conditions as South Africa and were better managing their water withdrawal percentages. The trend of available water and total storage capacity shows a decrease over the years, and this was due to people using more water. The steps which the Department planned to take included enhanced monitoring and protection of what is available, increased efficiency in use and the development of more resources.

The use of ground water was also an option in South Africa, but it was an option that needed work as there was a need to properly assess where the ground water was, how much was available, and conduct a lot of field work. All of this would cost a lot of money. High water yield areas that were vulnerable needed to be protected to limit potential land-use and climate change impacts.

The Department also needed to be constantly informed and remain capacitated, while raising awareness on climate change, especially water use. Another strategy which the Department was putting into place was to mainstream climate change into water and sanitation action, and this was to ensure that every aspect of water in the Department was taking into account climate change. Following consultation processes with regions, some regions had developed their own strategies and efficiency in water use, in consideration of climate change impacts which were promoted during campaigns. 

The objectives of the drought management strategy included the standardisation of methods for the development and implementation of operating rules for water supply and drought management in South Africa. Drought management rules were embedded within water supply operating rules to ensure that appropriate protocols were readily available in case of drought, because it was not easy to determine exactly when a drought had commenced. There also needed to be documentation of the processes involved in the development and implementation of the operating rules, in order to help facilitate skills transfers and capacitation. The strategy was in line with the National Water Act no. 36 of 1998.

In-house, the DWS had the ‘Climate Change Risk and Vulnerability Assessment,’ and this had been conducted in the Vaal, Orange, Mzimvubu-Tsitsikamma, Olifants and Limpopo water management areas. They had looked at what was likely to happen as a result of climate change, and had noted pollution in the Vaal as a problem, as well as many areas where more water than necessary was being withdrawn. There were also various non-financial stressors, but the question of climate change still remained prominent. The findings for the Lesotho Highlands included a projected slight increase in summer rainfall and a decrease in winter rainfall by more than 25% during the intermediate future (2046-2065). The temperature for Mohale’s Hoek within Lesotho, under the worst-case scenario for the same period, was projected to increase by up to 2 degrees Celsius. The water transfers form Lesotho had implications for future continued reliance of water transfer from Lesotho, which called for South Africa to be more water wise now in view of possible shortages in the future.

An operating rule was a plan for governing the regulation of water resource schemes in order to reconcile expected water requirements with availability. The purpose of this was to guide good practice procedures for managing abstractions, releases and restrictions in order to ensure an equitable supply of water and mitigation against risk of failure (drying) of water resources, minimising water losses through pillage and reducing the operational costs of the scheme. Early warning systems (EWS) projecting storage trends and levels when restrictions would be imposed, based on an operating rule, showed that risks of restrictions were higher in 2016 than in 2015. The operating rules were system specific, because the availability of water resources depended on the characteristics of the specific catchment’s hydrology. It was also dependent on the initial water storage of the system, which was not necessarily the same for the different systems/dams. It was also due to the fact that water requirement patterns and schedules were different for different water schemes.

The main outcomes of operating rules include equitable water supply, restriction protocols during water shortages, minimised scheme operational costs, water quality management and facilitating infrastructure maintenance. The generic decision process for the development and implementation of the operating rules was that every five years, they would review the hydrology and infrastructural configuration of the system, establish a System Operation Forum (SOF), verify licensed water allocations and projected water demands for the next five years, and would develop/review appropriate decision support systems (DSS) for analysing systems operating rules. They would also set a decision date for the “water resource analysis and budgeting” when the SOF was held for communication and abstractable water allocations and restrictions. The process would also take place annually, monthly and weekly, with different strategies for the different periods of time.

The climate change strategy was aligned to the Regional climate policy, the Department’s climate change strategy, the Department’s national water strategy and the national climate policy. The aims of the strategy were to effectively manage climate change impacts on the country’s water and sanitation through interventions that build and sustain South Africa’s social, economic and environmental resilience and emergency response capacity, and promote the application of integrated water management as a priority tool to reduce climate vulnerability (including extreme events – drought and floods). The strategic actions – at local, national and regional levels – include governance (building adaptive institutions and regional coordination), water management (data and information, climate scenario projections), infrastructure development and operation (water storage, reservoir development), implementation (roles and responsibilities defined), monitoring and evaluation, and review and update.

In conclusion, South Africa was a water stressed country with less than 1 000 cubic metres of water per capita per year. It was on its way to be water stressed, but this could be prevented by following the strategies in place. South Africans need to comply with the operating rules.

Department of Environmental Affairs: Adaptation to Climate Change

Mr Tlou Ramaru, Chief Director: Climate Change Adaptation: DEA, said that the purpose of the presentation was to inform the Water and Sanitation Committee about the interventions by the Department of Environmental Affairs. The DEA drives climate change policy and in the policy, they were trying move more towards climate resilience. They wanted to be able to anticipate and reduce climate-related risks and be able to reduce inequality and ensure that the vulnerable population were protected from the effects of climate change.

The impact of the scenarios of the climate change projections and scenario development include more impacts on terrestrial, freshwater and marine ecosystems, evidenced by species shifting their geographic ranges, seasonal activities and migration patterns. Efforts to employ effective responses for climate change resilience to various external shocks associated with climate change would potentially strengthen the attainment of the development goals. Impacts of climate change would affect a large proportion of the population who live in impoverished circumstances, where informal settlements were set up in locations that were vulnerable to extreme weather events and a lack of adequate housing structures to offer sufficient protection against rain, wind and cold. In addition, there was a high incidence of disease, which placed impoverished people at further risk. Much of South Africa experiences low and variable rainfall, with access to safe drinking water posing a problem in some communities. As most of the surface water resources were already utilised to their full potential, water shortages could pose a problem in the future, and climate change could exacerbate this further.

The adaptation options for drought include long-term, slow-onset or creeping disaster, resulting in long term systemic and structural changes. Continued monitoring, seasonal forecasting and drought early warnings were also part of the strategy, as well as improved drought planning, drought-resistant seed varieties and food stock piles, and support for farmers and rural households. Drought risk reduction measures were also important through restoration of critical ecological systems, such as restoring of natural systems, removal of invasive alien plants and rehabilitation of wetlands. Alternative sources and improved storage capacity and drought adaption requires rethinking of concepts of water and food security.

The adaptation options for floods include catchment management, improved land care practices as part of ecosystem-based adaptation approaches, and enforcement of zoning regulations. It also includes support for the “Working for Water” and “Working for Wetlands” programmes, including Natural Resource Management (NRM) land user incentive programmes, changes to design standards at the provincial/local level, design standards for key infrastructure and improved maintenance of existing infrastructure.

The interventions developed by the DEA include developing the risk and vulnerability assessment, as well as the response plans in nine provinces, implementing Adaption Fund projects in three provinces (KZN, Limpopo and Northern Cape) and developing and disseminanting the NCFS products to stakeholders for decision making purposes. The Adaption Fund covers the following elements:

  • early warning systems that support local communities and small scale farmers;
  • raising climate resilient livestock;
  • producing climate resilient rooibos tea;
  • climate smart vegetable production;
  • investments in water security;and
  • investments in climate proof infrastructure.

The DEA would also provide capacity support to district municipalities in inland provinces on integrating climate change in planning processes, the development of fire belts to reduce the fire hazard risks through the Working for Fire projects, and the removal of alien invasive species through the Working for Water programme.

The National Joint Drought Coordination Committee (NJDCC) continues in the country, with the focus being on the monitoring of drought and water shortage conditions within the affected areas, monitoring and evaluation for the implementation of intervention measures and support, and guidance in addressing the challenges encountered within the provinces and municipalities.


Ms M Khawula (EFF) wanted to know what happened to the those that seemed to have more water than others during the water crisis, particularly in Cape Town, even eventually donating some water to the city.

A Member asked what other strategies the Department had to conserve water, and what the total renewable water resources were.

Ms H Kekana (ANC) wanted to know how South Africa could be in a better position to deal with climate change. Was there technology that could be used in water conservation? She would also like to know what would be done to ensure that areas with higher water capacity were protected.

Response by DWS and DEA

Dr Moseki said the Department of Water and Sanitation was part of the negotiating team at the NJDCC under the DEA. The DWS works closely with the DEA on adaption, and they needed to deal with environmental adaptation issues. The Department over the years had been chairing the Research and Systematic Observation agenda item which talked about the methods and tools that were used to project climate change. It had a special unit and directorate which was for water use efficiency. This unit worked with the municipalities to support them in their reduction of non-renewable water. The Department had undertaken an artificial recharge strategy to try and store water artificially underground. Any water can be turned into clean drinkable water -- the only issue would be the cost-benefit analysis. The technology for this was expensive and they would have to decide if the benefits outweighed the costs.

Mr Ramaru said that climate change cuts across various sectors, so the DEA did not have a designated budget for it. Instead there were various programmes across the departments that responded to climate change.

Ms Khawula said that her question had not been answered, and asked would happen to her if she was found with a lot of gold, and no one else had. This was exactly what the white farmers were doing in Cape Town by having water, while the rest of the city did not. There was a farmer in Kraalskap with lots of water available to him, yet the people living nearby did not have water. He could not even donate some water to the people, or even a build a school for the children in the area. With regards to awareness, was the Department only talking to the people, or was it actually going to them to teach them about the environment and show them how to conserve water and use it wisely. On the matter of rivers, she would like to know why rivers in certain areas, especially in rural and township areas, were not being taken care of. The people in those areas used them, and should be able to use clean water.

Mr Livhuwani Mabuda, Chief Director: Integrated Water Resource Planning (IRWP), DWS, said that they had a dedicated unit that goes and checks on who had water and who did not, and they also checked whether the water that was available was clean or not. Later on they would require compulsory licensing. They would also follow up on the case of the farmer in Kraalskap.

The meeting was adjourned


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