South Africa Extreme Weather Event

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Severe Country-Wide Drought

The current drought, which started in the summer of 2014, is the third-driest for South Africa as a whole since the early 1930s when the country was hit by a historic drought in the midst of the Great Depression. The severity of the current drought has been aggravated by an El Nino, a weather pattern which decreases moisture in the sub-Saharan region.

Many financial hubs in the country, including Cape Town and Johannesburg, had to impose water restrictions on residents. Dry conditions last year cut South Africa’s maize crop by a third. South African livestock farmers were urged by the government to cut the size of their herds as drought conditions suck moisture out of grazing land.


The continued low rainfall resulted in very dry conditions with drought being reported in all nine provinces of the country. As a result, eight of the provinces were declared as disaster areas, thereby authorising the release of crucial funds to assist farmers. However, it recently came to light in Parliament that more than R380 million (about US$28.6 million) which could have been used to assist farmers during the drought, has not been spent. This is due to mismanagement by the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, which had not informed any stakeholders that the money was still available.

Other support provided to affected communities and farmers included the identification of land for relocation of livestock‚ revitalisation of feedlots‚ auction sales of livestock‚ provision of feed and water for livestock‚ support to small-holder farmers and sugar cane farmers and the creation of firebreaks. Fodder banks were established in rural areas and animal feed was delivered to farmers as part of efforts to maintain livestock.

On March 5, 2017, the mayor declared the City of Cape Town a disaster area, in order to respond more rapidly by mobilising staff and resources to deal with the crisis. The city’s dwindling water supply is predicted to run out in little more than 100 days if dam levels and water consumption remain unchanged. The critically low water supply was further put under pressure by wildfires in the Western Cape area, caused by the dry and windy summer season.

Future Actions

South Africa is a water-stressed country and is on an economic growth pathway that is very water intensive. In order to meet the increased water and food demands of a growing population, a collective effort by government, farmers and private industry is required. We have to learn best-practices from other drought-challenged countries in adapting to the ever-worsening weather conditions.

Learn More

For ongoing updates on the current drought in South Africa, see:

The South African Water Research Commission supports sustainable water development:

The Weather Service provides information on the types of droughts that South Africa experiences:

To understand more about the impact of the current drought on the South African economy, see:


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