Water Crisis

DROUGHT SPECIAL #3: What does the drought mean for agriculture? An outlook from Syria


Even though Day Zero was pushed back to mid May, Capetonians are still urged to dramatically cut down water their consumption. Rates of consumption remain capped at 50L per person, per day – less than one-sixth of what the average American uses. Dam levels sit at 25.8%, a 1% decrease since just last week.

If you want to see alarming before and after aerial photographs of the Theewaterskloof dam, click here.

The situation in Cape Town is dramatically escalating- water tanks and bottles are selling out across the city and bottled water sales are capped. The Newland Spring water collection point has been particularly popular, attracting hundreds of residents keen to supplement their 50L quotas. Reports show that physical conflicts have already broken out, with one person being arrested by South African Police. On top of this, many have complained about the noise and traffic in the area at all hours of the day. This is raising serious questions about access to and security of the proposed water pick up points, and sparking speculation of chaotic anarchy upon the arrival of Day Zero. Until now, a shutdown of this magnitude has been close to inconceivable.

While we are scrambling to imagine life with restricted drinking water, we perhaps neglect to think of the broader systemic ramifications of this drought. While we face water insecurity, what does this mean for the basic supplies for our city? What does this mean for agriculture? The Syrian drought struggle sheds some light on devastating effects of drought on basic food supplies and livelihoods.

Syrian Drought

From 2006 through 2011, Syria suffered its most extreme drought in recorded history, seeing widespread crop failure and the beginning of famine. During the period of 2007-2008 the rainfall average failed to reach 66% of the long-term average, with catastrophic effects on agricultural production. Normally self-sufficient in wheat production, farmers in the north-eastern area saw their income drop by 90% in only two years. Medium and small-scale herders lost 80% of their flocks due to lack of pasture and fodder. For the first time in 20 years, Syria had to import wheat.

The mass reduction of available agricultural crops resulted in hindered delivery of basic supplies such as fuel, pesticides, fertiliser materials, and equipment. Lootings of storages like grain silos and mills compounded the issue.

According to UN assessment missions, some 1.3 million Syrians have been affected. Of those, an estimated  803,000 have lost all of their livelihood, facing extreme hardship with limited food supplies that barely meets  50% of nutrition requirements.

Cape Town

The Western Cape (WC) comprises a vital part of the agri-economy of South Africa, producing key exports for the region including fruits, wine and citrus. Contributing 24% of the total GDP of South Africa, the WC relies on agriculture and agri-processing for 18% of employment opportunities in the province.

It has been estimated that 50,000 agriculture jobs will be lost, and about R40m has already been lost in wages due to farmers cutting back on planting and harvesting to save water. More broadly, it is estimated that drought-related loss in agricultural output will cost the economy around R3.2bn.

Even though Day Zero has been pushed back to mid May 2018 the situation is still severe. Furthermore, this pushback is only happening because the City of Cape Town is cutting down the agricultural consumption gradually from 30%, 15% to 10% over the course of the next months. This means the City of Cape Town is trying to solve the drought by sacrificing a whole industry: Agriculture.

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By: Beryl Visser & Alex Sanfilippo

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