Droughts, as shown here, are a regular feature in the tapestry of South African history but have been traditionally managed from an agricultural and conservation perspective (Union of South Africa, 1923). This focus has, however, been expanded during the past decade to include a wider group of affected communities and stakeholders. During the droughts of the 1990s, the impact of the drought on rural populations, for example, was actively monitored by various task forces that emerged from a National Consultative Committee on Drought as a result of reports of severe impacts on rural communities in the country, particularly those that had been relocated during the years of apartheid. The activities of the Drought Forum raised the profile and plight of the rural poor during droughts in South Africa and ushered in a change in drought policy (Abrams et al, 1992; Adams, 1993).
Building on the experiences of the 1990s drought, a strong mitigation focus for droughts has been fostered and is contained in the new disaster management policy, which includes a focus on the biophysical resources of the country as well as concentrating on mitigating the host of other factors that exacerbate drought impacts (White Paper on Disaster Management, 1999 and Bill, (forthcoming 2002)). The national policy on disasters, including drought, calls for a more proactive response to future droughts in the country. The growing official awareness and policy efforts are envisaged to lead to greater coordination with FEWS (Famine Early Warning Systems) in the wider SADC region and hence improve drought management, both locally and in the region.
Past and present experiences with the vagaries of weather and climate are prompting concerted efforts to improve preparedness for droughts. Collaborative efforts by both forecasters, atmospheric modelers and users of climate outlooks and forecasts have resulted in the formation of various climate forums that have been established throughout Africa, through consensus to improve the quality of the forecasts for the forthcoming seasons. Combining their knowledge of climate conditions in southern Africa, these experts provide users with a consensus, probabilistic assessment of the upcoming rainy season (NOAA-OGP, 1999). The South African Weather Services is actively involved in the forum and through its Research Group for Seasonal Climate Studies, three monthly mean rainfall and temperature forecasts for the country, regularly updated, are produced and issued by the Long-term Operational Group Information Centre (LOGIC). The science of forecasting seasonal rainfall and temperature for southern Africa and South Africa is well developed (e.g., Joubert et al., 1996; Mason et al., 1996; Joubert and Hewitson, 1997; Mason and Joubert, 1997; Mason, 1997; Mason and Jury, 1997). The overwhelming need, however, still remains for integrated science that incorporates the human and physical dimensions of climate variability and change so that effective mitigation strategies can be initiated and implemented.
Despite these advances, several groups, particularly the rural poor in Southern Africa, remain food insecure. One solution to avoid such situations is to ensure that forecasts are made more accessible. Others, however, argue that much more is required. The eradication of food emergencies and in cases, famines, requires more than technical capacity. Substantial political will, at national and international levels, more than has been evident to date, is needed (Devereux, 2000).
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