Drought Report: Department briefing

Water and Sanitation

04 February 2004
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Meeting report


4 February 2004

This is the edited version of a report produced by kind courtesy of Contact Trust:

Mr Van Wyk (ANC)

Documents handed out:

Drought report presentation
Drought relief report
Table of Allocations

The Department briefed the Committee on the low water levels, options for managing the existing water resources, the request for relief funds and how funds were allocated. The Committee asked a wide range of questions in response, including queries about provincial allocations, rates, market gardeners, emerging farmers and building more dams.

Mr Mike Muller (Department Director General) handed over to Mr Chris Moseki (Manager: Water Resource Planning Systems) who gave a presentation describing the low water levels, options for managing the existing water resources, and the request for relief funds. He then discussed how the funds were allocated and outlined issues still to be resolved.

Mr Muller added the Department was concerned that, as there had been some rainfalls recently, the public might feel that the drought was over. Although some areas looked green and there were significant rainfalls in some areas (like the KZN coastal areas), on the whole there was not enough rain to bring the water levels up sufficiently. Levels of stored water were still very low and not enough to get through the dry season. The Department would be issuing a media release to this effect.

Mr Sigwela (ANC) asked how much of the allocation went to deep rural areas. He also noted that, at this time last year, some DWAF officials had complained to him that people in the Xala area were "planning as if they were in Johannesburg". As he understood it, Treasury had emphasised that it was important that municipalities planned in the long term. He hoped that DWAF ensured that its orientation for staff also emphasised this.

Mr Hlaneki (ANC) asked about what yardsticks were used to allocate funds. He noted that in some areas (for example the Eastern Cape), there seemed to be fewer funds allocated, even though there were more people affected.

Mr Masala (ANC) asked for clarity on the issue of demand management and emergency schemes - and the emergency water schemes that are due for completion in this financial year. He asked if this meant that places like the Eastern Cape were 'better off' than other areas..

Mr Simmons (NNP) commented that, except for the Western Cape, all provinces had been affected by the drought. Water management and building dams were important in areas where there are regular problems with water supply. The 20% drop in water levels had impacted on the economy and people of SA. He asked how the Lesotho Highlands Water Project affected the provinces around it and what long-term solutions the Department was looking at.

Mr Phala (ANC) noted that the drought had been going on for two or three years, and asked about the impact of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project. He also asked about monitoring by the Department, noting the situations where people were having to use the same water as animals.

Mrs Ngwenya (ANC) said she was keen to know about the impact of the drought on the costs of water. People appreciated the supply of water but the costs are often high. She also asked if the municipalities are trained to cope with the cost issue.

The Chair asked if the Department could provide a broader view of their drought relief plans. He asked if the R250m reflected the first allocation for DWAF only or for all the Departments. He also asked for clarity on the allocation for specific projects used for relief. Finally, he enquired what long-term measures were in place to deal with issues confronting emerging farmers. Why were most allocations for district municipalities but some were for local municipalities?

Mr Muller said that with regard to the broader picture, it was difficult to give a detailed report as there were a number of Departments involved. The DPLG's National Disaster Management Centre would be better placed to provide such an overview. However, with regards to DWAF, every sphere of government had are co-ordinated efforts in terms of drought management.

On the question of local and district municipalities, he said that in terms of powers and functions, water supply was allocated to districts in some areas and local municipalities in others.

On Mr Sigwela's question, he said DWAF officials had taken into account higher service levels in Johannesburg in the long term. If plans were to be useful, they had to consider budgetary constraints.

The amounts referred to were only the first allocation. In terms of the second and third allocations, there were larger amounts going to Oliver Tambo. Allocations had been discussed with the municipalities and were a reflection of the differing needs in different areas. In some areas the money was needed immediately, and in others it would be needed later. All monies allocated were dependent on specific proposals.

In terms of drought relief, the Eastern Cape was better off than other areas, and the capital projects were still in place. The amounts referred to were only for drought relief and not for water programmes already in place. Mr Moseki added that the total amount for the Eastern Cape was R54m and not R6.5m - only the first allocation.

Mr Muller cautioned the Committee about thinking of dams as being able to always solve problems. There were dams full of water but communities did not have access to that water, for example when money has been spent on the dam but not pipes etc. Dams could be useful in areas with regular dry periods that need to be planned for, and water needs to be stored.

The Department had proposals to build 15 dams over 20 years to meet future demands. He emphasised the importance of storing water. He added however that if they did not manage demand, there would be overuse in one area and scarcity in other areas. The long-term plans of the Department were encompassed in the National Water Resource Strategy, which was a 25 year plan.

On the issue of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP), he noted that the water was being used in Limpopo, Mpumalanga, North West, Free State, Northern Cape and Gauteng provinces.

He said that the provinces did work with the National Department on issues of water and delays were not due to the Department. Municipalities needed to make proposals that would address the issue of drought relief.

On the question of rates, he said that people would be able to access their Free Basic Water. However people should realise that they had to pay for the water used over and above that. The drought had caused the bulk price of water to rise by 6%, but these costs should not be borne by poor people.

The Department had made much effort to address the concerns of emerging farmers. Where commercial farmers were expected to stop completely, the emerging farmers were only expected to reduce by half. If they suffered losses, Mr Muller noted that assistance was the Department Agriculture's portfolio. Emerging farmers were given preference in terms of stock watering.

Mrs Ngwenya asked a follow up question on rates and mentioned water used for vegetable gardens. She noted the government's concerns about food security and the fact that people are given seeds to grow, and therefore consumed more water. She talked about the water for food project and the importance of teaching people to store water.

Mr Phala asked for more information about the supply of water from the LHWP.

Mr Muller agreed with Mrs Ngwenya that the issue of watering gardens was important. Clean water was expensive to produce and it was a waste to use it in gardens. The work done by Ma Tshepo and Marne de Lange in the Water for Food programme was important and he announced that his Department was working on a proposal to fund tank building. He had no more details on time frames etc.

Mr Simmons asked if the Department had considered building an additional dam in Lesotho to cover future water problems and provide for KZN and the Eastern Cape.

The Chair noted that water for irrigation was the responsibility of DWAF and water resources impacted on that. He asked the Department to comment.

Mr Muller noted that the current LHWP had five phases and only the first had been completed. The Lesotho government would probably be keen to build additional dams. However, with regard to KZN and the Eastern Cape, there were other alternatives. DWAF had to what was most cost-effective. It might be better to have dams in different areas, or dams in some areas but not others.

In terms of irrigation, he said that farmers felt the pinch and had requested that they be given advanced notice if water for irrigation was not going to be available. Mr Muller noted that the Department was not always familiar with the crop seasons.

Mr Moseki added that the important thing was that irrigation water be used efficiently and not wasted. There had been progress since 1994 - the Blyde River pipeline has cut water losses by 50%.

The Chair noted that SA was a low rainfall area, and there is always the threat of drought that impacts mostly on the poor in terms of job losses and higher prices. It would have been useful in this type of presentation to have the Department of Agriculture as well as the National Disaster Management Centre give input.

The Chair urged members to attend meetings, and noted that the programme would remain as is for now. He then adjourned the meeting.


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