The world’s 31st driest country is in the middle of its worst drought in at least the last two decades. Extreme temperatures – passing the 50°C in the northern provinces – have become the norm in the past two months.
The heat wave is part of a long term warming trend, which scientists say is being driven by human carbon emissions. According to the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, the southern part of Africa has been warming at 1.5 times the world average.
In research released last month, the council said, “Dramatic increases in the number of heat-wave days and high fire-danger days, and reduced soil-moisture availability, are consistently projected.” By mid century, the interior of the country will be on average 3°C hotter than normal.
This has been exacerbated by El Niño, a phenomenon which warms the Pacific and causes drought in the southern hemisphere. For South Africa, it has meant a second year of little rainfall.
Projections show that little rain will fall before March next year.
Dams and ageing infrastructure have been worst affected, with Rand Water declaring restrictions because increased demand had put too much pressure on its pipelines.
Level one restrictions have subsequently been increased to level two. People cannot water their gardens during daylight hours, or fill their baths and wash cars. Similar restrictions have been in place in large cities such as Bloemfontein for several months.
Here are ways in which you can save water, some resulting in immediate savings and others which should be implemented over several years.
- Don’t use any water outside during daylight hours. The heat means this evaporates anyway so does little good for plants.
- Fix faults in plumbing throughout your property. A leaking tap can waste thousands of litres of water each year.
- Put a brick in your toilet and leave it to mellow. Toilets use more water than is necessary, and flushing can be unnecessary. A brick will substantially reduce water use.
- Save electricity. Eskom uses 3% of South Africa’s water, so saving electricity will ease that burden on the utility.
- Move towards an indigenous, drought-resistant garden. Indigenous trees are hardier than their imported counterparts and use much less water. They can also survive long periods of drought.
- Shorten showers and teeth brushing, while staying away from bathing. Turn the tap off while lathering and brushing.
- Don’t refill the swimming pool. These are a luxury and a waste of water when entire communities are faced with trying to live without water. Savings in one place mean people get water elsewhere.
The most critical component of water saving is for South Africa to live like it is a water scarce country. Water is the single biggest constraint to development.