Impacts Of Droughts In South Africa

Drought impacts, however, are not the result only of insufficient rainfall or searing temperature. In most cases, drought impacts are the outcome of the interaction of a number of social and other human factors that can heighten the "vulnerability" of communities and various exposure units (e.g., vegetation) and reduce "resilience" of society and ecosystems to the natural hazard (Dilley, 2000; Vogel et al, 2000). As a result of these components of drought, a number of impacts are recorded.

The scale of these impacts also varies and can be tracked at various levels (e.g., regional, national, community, and household) of agricultural production. For example, production declined as a result of the 1980s and 1990s droughts in southern Africa. Harvest failures of between 30 and 80% below-normal across the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region were recorded. Cereal production in the SADC countries dropped to less than 50% of the annual requirement in 1992, and the cost of imported food to the region rose to approximately $4 billion (Hulme, 1996). Drought related to the 1982-1983 El Niño cost nearly US$1 billion in direct damages with an estimated US$350 million spent on famine relief (1983 prices) in southern Africa (International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, 1999). The economic loss to Africa's agricultural sector in the early 1990s drought was estimated at US$7 billion (1992 prices)-an estimated 20 times the value of 1993 World Bank loans to sub-Saharan agriculture (International Federation of Red Cross

6 IMPACTS OF DROUGHTS IN SOUTH AFRICA

and Red Crescent Societies. 1999). More recently, the combined influence of drought, floods, economic instability, and HIV/AIDS threatened the food security of millions in southern Africa (WFP, 2002).

At a national level, drought ripples across sectors and impacts on a range of activities. On a national scale, drought in South Africa results in a reduction in the yield of the maize crop with yields falling to below 1 ton per hectare (Fig, 4). The outward effects triggered by drought range from its impact on agriculture's contribution to the gross domestic product (GDP) to a host of other impacts such as food supply, employment opportunities, and a number of forward and backward linkages associated with the agricultural sector (Ballard, 1986; Van Zyl et al, 1987; Van Zyl and Nel, 1988). The declining agricultural yields associated with the droughts of the 1990s, for example, negatively affected GDP growth by between 0.5 and 2% (Mather and Adelzadch, 1997).

The human consequences and across sectors and groups, arc difficult to quantify accurately. For the agricultural sector the occurrence of drought, together with changes in agricultural policy, provision of farmer loans and other economic factors, can combine to heighten the impacts on the sector. During the recent severe drought of the early 1990s, for example, it was estimated that 50,000 jobs would be lost in the agricultural sector (with a further 20,000 in related sectors) and about 250,000 in total (families included) would be affected (AFRA, 1992; Adams, 1993; Van Zyl, 1993). Crop failures occurred for both commercial and smaller-scale farmers (Adams, 1993) and water levels in several of the major dams were less than two-thirds their normal capacity (Fig. 5). Faulty and poorly maintained water infrastructure further aggravated the precarious water situation.

Summer rainfall vs maize production

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L J maize production —average rainfall - summer rainfall regions

Figure 4 Summer rainfall versus maize production (modified after McClintock, 1997, with kind permission, UBS Warburg, formerly SBC Warburg, Johannesburg).

Summer rainfall vs maize production r 750

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Water levels in South Africa's major dams

Water levels in South Africa's major dams

weighted average of nine largest dams

Figure 5 Water levels in South Africa's major dams (modified after McClintock, 1997, with kind permission, UBS Warburg, formerly SBC Warburg, Johannesburg).

weighted average of nine largest dams

Figure 5 Water levels in South Africa's major dams (modified after McClintock, 1997, with kind permission, UBS Warburg, formerly SBC Warburg, Johannesburg).

Drought is not, therefore, the fundamental problem in sub-Saharan Africa. Drought needs to be viewed together with a host of other hazards and realities: including HIV/AIDS, violence and conflict, growing disparities between rich and poor, failing economies, struggles over land, water, and poverty. Drought indeed often merely uncovers the African development crisis and allows glimpses of harsh daily realities. At a local scale, the impacts of droughts are often hidden "costs" escaping detailed quantification. These includc the stripping of household assets used to procure a livelihood (stock and crops arc reduced the price of water and of basic food supplies often increases, retrenchments occur), household income, and social dislocation and disruption of local livelihood (e.g., Bratton, 1987; Adams, 1993; Vogel, 1995; Scoones et al., 1996).

Several assessments of vulnerability to droughts in Africa (e.g., Glantz and Katz. 1985; Chambers, 1989; Vogel, 1995; Jallow, 1995; Davies, 1996; Downing et al., 1996) have therefore shown that droughts act together with a number of underlying factors to exacerbate local conditions. In southern Africa, during non-drought years, the baseline prevalence of problems related to inadequate nutrition is "normally" low (International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, 1999). Drought cannot, therefore, be seen as the "cause" of such problems, but rather, it exacerbates existing problems associated with poverty (e.g., Abrams et al., 1992; AFRA, 1992).

Few detailed studies of drought impacts, coping responses, and mitigation at the rural-poor household level have been undertaken in South Africa (e.g., Freeman, 1984; AFRA, 1992; Vogel, 1995). Most assessments show that it is "access" and "entitlements" to resources that usually determine the magnitude of impact. Rural communities that farm and depend on the land for a livelihood often require access to irrigation, access to markets to sell stock, financial resources to procure farming equipment, etc. Failure to procure these resources, together with a severe dry spell,

7 DROUGHT MANAGEMENT AND POLICY INITIATIVES 843

can result in inexorable difficulties. During the drought of the early 1990s, for example, large numbers of cattle died in several rural areas [an estimated 500,000 cattle in the former Transkei, a former "independent homeland" in the eastern part of the country (Adams, 1993)]. Such losses of cattle do not only result in less meat and milk but also severely constrain the limited household incomes derived from cattle sales. Underpinning these circumstances is the complex history of the country, which has had a major influence on who farms, owns land, and can obtain access to the resources mentioned above (Lipton et al, 1996).

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  • tim zweig
    What kind of impacts of the droughts for african?
    1 month ago

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