Media release

Inter-Ministerial Task Team on Drought

08 September 2016


Government officials
Members of the media
Ladies and gentlemen

We welcome you to this media briefing today to provide an update on drought conditions across the country and the interventions that Government has embarked upon.

We meet on the heels of the winter season and now as spring is upon us, scientists tell us there is no guarantee there will be sufficient rain during the coming season.

The country and the region experienced drought in its four (4) forms: meteorological, hydrological, socio-economic and agricultural. This has been recorded as one of the worst droughts according to South African Weather Services (SAWS). All nine (9) provinces were affected by drought in varying degrees.

Although some areas are receiving rains and flooding experienced in some provinces such as KwaZulu-Natal, the drought conditions have not improved, the dams across the country are at their lowest levels in years.

At the last Inter-ministerial Task Team briefing, we committed to providing regular updates on the extent of our work to deal with this challenge of water scarcity and drought. Much work has been carried out by various sectors, private sector and Non-Governmental Organizations to respond to this challenge.

When we briefed the country last year the national dam levels were estimated at 64.3% of our normal full supply. Since then we have seen a drop in our storage quantity to the current 53.0% as at 05 September 2016. The long range forecast shows a below normal, expected rainfall and therefore little relief is anticipated in the coming months.

From a water supply perspective, water security must therefore be viewed and assessed in relation to the users that are served by the large regional water supply schemes comprising the major dams and large bulk infrastructure networks, as:

  • These systems have a higher assurance of supply due to multi-year water storage and lower risk of water variability due to a larger spatial footprint and inter-basin water transfers;
  • The bulk of the economic nodes and national growth points are served by such schemes, totalling 238 schemes nationally. The majority of these systems are currently in a positive water balance with the national average dam storage measured at 53% of full supply capacity, which is in stark contrast with the 72% storage at the same time, last year. 

This above decline has necessitated the imposition of water restrictions in a number of provinces and most recently, the Gauteng Province. The people of Gauteng are urged to respect these restrictions and to ensure that they use water sparingly at all times.

As part of our on-going drought mitigation measures, the Department of Water and Sanitation has deployed 63,18 000 litre motorized water tankers and to date some 8million litres of water has been delivered to approximately 49200 people in the provinces of North West, KZN, Free state and the Eastern Cape. Water conservation and demand measures are being intensified with 16000 water restrictors installed in a number of areas in eThekwini, Ugu, Zululand and uMzinyathi Districts. The “Drop a Block” water saving device was introduced across the country with nearly 103 000 water saving devices installed in the Northern Cape alone.

The strict implementation of drought operating rules are currently being effected at all dams and this includes restrictions from the larger supply systems. In addition, the Department of Water and Sanitation is also increasing the water mix, especially ground water utilization and more than 7 487 boreholes are now operational across the country. These boreholes were established by various government departments and municipalities.

According to the SA Weather Services (SAWS), the drought is still persisting over most parts of South Africa and the recovery will be delayed due to expected below normal rainfall conditions. Current indications are that above-normal rainfall and temperatures could be expected during the early summer season (November, December and January).

Weather SA further cautions that the current situation is delicate for all climate-sensitive sectors such as agriculture, water management, health etc, as the country is already under water stress.

The Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) and the Provincial Departments of Agriculture (PDA) have allocated R268 million towards drought relief from the reprioritised Comprehensive Agricultural Support Programme (CASP). Provinces have made available R173 million to assist farmers with animal feed and stock. Infrastructure projects such as drilling and equipping of boreholes, distribution of construction of stock dams and distribution of feeds to farmers has been undertaken. An additional amount of R198 million has been made available by Provinces to assist small holder farmers during 2016/17 financial year in order to continue with provision of livestock feed and stock watering facilities. This intervention is still in progress.

The Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) has made available funding administered through the Land Bank to assist farmers. This assistance was made in three (3) strategic interventions, namely, Concessionary Drought Relief Loans, Internal Loan Support and Forced Stock Sale Deposit.

The Agricultural Research Council has also introduced a drought tolerant maize seed which will contribute to efforts to minimise the effects of drought on the production of maze. Measures are being considered to multiply the seed.

As you are aware, drought conditions have a negative impact on food production and consequently food prices. The National Agricultural Marketing Council (NAMC) is monitoring food prices in the country and reports to the Section 7 Committee established by the minister.

Dry land crop producers, livestock producers have had to deal with the impact of the drought, which has been translated into the rest of the agricultural value chain, with the poorest consumers being impacted the most.

Information from NAMC and Bureau of Food Agricultural Policy (BFAP) shows that in the short term the impact of drought on primary production has been severely felt in the livestock sector. Due to massive declines in natural grazing and crop residue, livestock farmers have had to resort to using any available form of feed to keep their animals alive. Massive livestock losses have been recorded throughout the country with statistics showing a 15% decline in number of cows between 2013 and 2016.

The situation is not likely to change over the short- to medium-term due to the reduction and erosion of grazing capacity to about 30%. Within the feed intensive livestock sectors, which typically also compete with competitively priced imported products, profitability is under pressure as a result of high feed costs.

In terms of crop production, sunflower was the only summer crop for which planted area did not decline during the 2015/16 production season. The average decline in national planting area for maize was 30%, with Free State and North West provinces experiencing drops of 32% and 43% respectively. Dryland crop production, especially white and yellow maize, has been affected negatively by the drought with commodity prices rising, a situation that was reinforced by the depreciation of the exchange rate. The year 2016 saw record highs in summer grain prices as a result of the drought. Producers who were able to plant maize and achieve a yield in the midst of the drought, the prices realised were sufficient to ensure a year on year increase in gross revenue for white maize in 2016.

For producers who were unable to plant the intended area or achieve yield due to drought, the financial impact was severe. A survey undertaken by Agbiz and AgriSA (as reported by the NAMC’s Section 7 Committee on Drought) showed that about 370 large commercial farmers around the country, who are clients of the large commercial banks, were at risk of going under due to them not being able to service their debts as a result of the drought.

The Department of Rural Development and Land Reform has approved a total of R286 million for drought relief intervention in 2015/16 financial year under the Recapitalisation and Development Program and R158 million was spent. The RADP drought intervention support focused on livestock support in terms of feed, water support and support to small scale land reform farmers.

The support provided to affected communities and farmers includes the following:

  1. The identification of land for relocation of livestock
  2. Revitalisation of feedlots
  3. Auction sales of livestock
  4. Provision of feed and water for livestock
  5. Support to small holder farmers and sugar cane farmers
  6. And the creation of firebreaks

The revitalization of feedlots has contributed to ensuring the survival of livestock in the affected provinces. The Department has also made grazing land available and farmers have been able to relocate their livestock to these areas.

Fodder banks have been established in rural areas and animal feed has been delivered to farmers as part of efforts to maintain livestock. Government also responded to a plea from the sugar cane industry in KwaZulu-Natal where farmers were experiencing severe challenges with their crops under threat of failure. This intervention benefitted over 9000 small scale cane growers. 


As our country continues to battle the effects of this natural phenomenon we are mindful of the hardships that are experienced by our people in the most affected areas. We are intensifying our relief interventions to distressed areas. Long and short term interventions are being implemented while monitoring and evaluation of all efforts is on-going. COGTA through the National Disaster Management Centre will continue coordinating the country’s drought and water scarcity situation in collaboration with all the sectors and private sector.

We call on all South Africans to make a concerted effort to save water and use it wisely, as well as take care of the public infrastructure within communities. The communities must report any vandalism activities and theft of infrastructure to the relevant authorities. We also wish to urge our partners to continue the work they are doing to support our communities in distress.


Sputnik Ratau: Department of Water and Sanitation: (Departmental Spokesperson)
Cell: 082 874 2942 / 072 024 6794

Legadima Leso: Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs
Cell: 083 378 9495

Issued by GCIS on behalf of The Inter-Ministerial Committee on Drought

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