Recurring water shortages endanger local ecosystems and threaten agriculture-based communities.
As climate change continues, forecasters expect droughts to become more frequent and severe. In South Africa’s Limpopo province, the Mabodibeng dairy cooperative produces milk for local villages. A group of European and African scientists from an EU research project have visited to try to understand how to help local farmers prepare for droughts. Jean-Marie Kileshye Onema, Waternet’s Acting Manager and Research Co-ordinator says it’s a multi layered problem: “Obviously, droughts hit the most vulnerable in a population, and expose them to issues of food security, health or even sanitation. And this can be seen throughout the continent. And the focus of this project is to try to improve or mitigate risks related to drought in the African context.”
Farmers generally rely on short-term TV weather forecasts. Existing medium and long-term models, based on satellite and ground data, are too complicated to be assessable to the general public. Researchers are proposing an early warning system that would make simple recommendations based on all the available data. Scientists, authorities and local people would work together to make such a drought alert system reliable and efficient. And here the EU can help. They are also analysing the management of water resources across the continent, looking for ways to improve both governance and cooperation between African regions. But at heart the problem is simple. Jakkie Venter is Tzaneen Area Manager for the South African Department of Water Affairs: “The situation is that there’s not enough water in South Africa. The rainy season is short and you get long winters with low flow. So we need research to better the management of the water resources.” With the risk of droughts increasing, there is little time to waste.