Media Release: Understanding drought, the frequency of it, vulnerability and how the Garden Route as a region can adapt to become more resilient
For Immediate Release
13 July 2020
Drought can be defined as a climatic event originating from a deficiency of precipitation over an extended period of time, usually a season or more. This deficiency results in a water shortage within agricultural, urban and environmental settings. From 2009-2020, municipalities located within the Garden Route Municipality’s (GRDM) jurisdiction experienced drought episodes of varying degrees, ranging from moderate to severe and extreme meteorological droughts. Diminished rainfall during these drought episodes results in numerous lagged, “knock-on” consequences to ground and surface water resources, that translates into critically low urban water supplies in the Garden Route district. These hydrological drought conditions also generate additional effects and necessitated significant emergency responses over the last 11 year period in the Garden Route district.
The Western Cape has been identified as particularly vulnerable to climate change, because of its coastal location and the influence of rising sea temperatures on the weather patterns in the adjacent region. Prediction is that by 2050, the rainfall in the Western Cape is likely to decrease by 30% relative to current figures. The drought in the Garden Route district is consistent with long-term climate change projections for the area.
It is predicted by scientists that there will definitely be an average increase in temperatures within the district, having serious implications for soil moisture and the agricultural sector. A reduction in winter rainfall, with changes in the timing and intensity of the rainfall, is also predicted, thereby contributing to extended periods of drought with intermittent flooding events in between.
Climate variability and changing weather conditions are key risk drivers when it comes to drought vulnerability within the Garden Route district.
Consistent with prevailing studies on drought and water scarcity, the vulnerability within the Garden Route district is also amplified by interacting risk drivers that progressively escalated the risk of a wide-spread water shortage. These risk drivers include population growth and unprecedented urban development within the district, which results in greatly increased water consumption, both in agriculture and in the rapidly growing coastal towns. A lack of resilient and adaptive drought risk management planning within development zones further exacerbates the areas vulnerability to drought.
The focus of the GRDM to address the disastrous impacts of drought events within the district, has been to connect with climate change science and to facilitate the “climate-proofing” of water services within the district, so that the rights of all to reliable, safe, sufficient, affordable water is not compromised by the impacts of climate change, and that alternative strategies for providing water services do not in themselves contribute further to global warming. This however needs to be a collaborative focus by different stakeholders within the sector. Through adaptive responses and actions to drought impacts, municipalities have the power to provide resilient responses to ensure water security and sustainability for the district within the face of climatic unpredictability.
Responses such as rigorous water demand management, a systematic investment in water infrastructure and technical capacity is essential to manage the district’s water supplies sustainably. Alternative and new water resource options need to be investigated to ensure the integrity of the water system, such as the use of groundwater, the re-use of effluent and the desalination of seawater. Groundwater potential also exists in most of the district, and its conjunctive use with other supply sources and infrastructure should be investigated. Volumes can be obtained on a sustainable basis through more adaptive management actions such as resource directed measures where it is most needed. Desalination is also an important supply intervention, as decreasing costs could result in desalination being implemented prior to some of the conventional water resource schemes. Desalination can be an efficient method to cater for prolonged drought emergencies, a stronger trend in climate change and rapid growth scenarios. The clearing of invasive alien plants from riparian buffer zones is also a key mechanism for managing this risk, as it helps to restore base-flows that are otherwise used by invasive alien plants.
Due to the more erratic rainfall patterns experienced and forecasted due to climate change, a more holistic view is needed in the district, with a balance of different sources to cope with extremities. The focus need to shift towards the careful management and optimisation of existing use. Planning and preparedness needs to take a more general flexible form. There is room for the local municipalities within the district to tackle specific issues their own way, allowing for more flexibility, with appropriate responses for the different local contexts. The Garden Route district would therefore like to encourage its local municipalities to ensure that their municipal disaster risk assessments incorporate considerations of their specific urban water scarcity levels and drought risks and their patterns in population growth and urban development, and to implement strong water conservation and demand management programmes, and more adaptive and resilient interventions.
By being resilient, it means that the municipality has the capacity to cope with future change and surprises, without changing in undesirable ways. Resilient interventions are defined by actions that support and regulate life support systems, as well as in providing the adaptive basis for coping with gradual and sudden change. Through adopting a resilience perspective, we can produce new knowledge which is fundamental to manage the capacity of water systems to cope, adapt and shape change.
By adopting a more resilience approach to drought, vulnerability within the district can be minimized through a reduced exposure to stresses, as well as a reduction in social-ecological sensitivities through sustaining ecosystem services and human well-being in vulnerable areas. Through adopting this approach, a management approach focusing on proactive strategies – able to adapt to change, can be achieved, thereby averting or ameliorating the impacts of drought disasters within the district.
Issued by the Disaster Management Unit, Garden Route District Municipality
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