According to Nasa, 2015 saw the hottest temperatures on Earth’s surface since modern record keeping began in the 1800s. The effects of this global warming have been seen all over the world: December was the wettest month on record led to devastating floods in the UK, record heat led to bush fires in Australia, and severe droughts have left countries in Africa and Central America in need of food aid.
South Africa has not been exempt from the consequences of global climate change as it saw its warmest year on record in 2015, with Gauteng already experiencing record breaking temperatures in 2016. South Africa’s climate woes do not only stem from global warming, but from the regular El Niño effect which causes short-term fluctuations in temperature. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, “El Niño is characterised by unusually warm ocean temperatures in the Equatorial Pacific, as opposed to La Niña, which is characterised by unusually cold ocean temperatures in the Equatorial Pacific. El Niño is an oscillation of the ocean-atmosphere system in the tropical Pacific, having important consequences for weather around the globe.”
South Africa experiences far less rainfall during El Niño, the realities of which are beginning to surface. In 2015, five of the nine provinces were declared drought disaster areas for agriculture. The Free State is the hardest hit and despite nationwide rain in past weeks, farmers have been told to prepare for a long road ahead. Rural areas are the worst affected, but fortunately community members have stepped in and many water donation points have been set up in surrounding cities and towns, coordinated through Facebook groups started by ordinary people wanting to help.
Food shortages, another consequence of the drought, are increasingly becoming a concern. South Africa has been unable to grow enough maize to meet the nation’s demands, let alone export requirements. It is predicted that we will have to import up to 6 million tonnes of maize in 2016, which is over half of our national usage. Due to the growing shortages, maize prices have soared, rising 150 percent to R5000 a tonne from R2000 this time last year. This will impact the cost of other food as well. Frans van der Bergh, a farmer and president of Agri-Gauteng, says, “We predict a food revolution because food will be unaffordable.” He stresses the importance of micro-farming – a task to be undertaken by families sooner rather than later.
The advice from an array of experts is for South Africans to focus on conserving water by making small lifestyle changes, such as watering lawns in the evening when it’s cooler and taking shorter showers. However, some experts are calling for water restrictions to be enforced nationwide, and not just in the most affected provinces (North-West, KwaZulu- Natal and Mpumalanga).
The University of Pretoria has been preparing for water shortages for some time now. Prof. Susan Adendorff, the director of Facilities Management at the university, says they have taken note of the amount of boreholes situated on the UP campuses, and also which water storage facilities are available. UP has a unique feature outside the Mining Study Centre – a rainwater harvesting area, which as well as irrigating the botanical garden there, can collect and hold up to 80 000 litres of water. Most of the campus lawns (watered in the evening to restrict evaporation) are irrigated using borehole water. Prof. Adendorff has also said that many leaks across campus were repaired, and urges students who see a leak to report it to the department’s phone line at 012 420 2244.
Photo: Kay O’Brien