Large parts of the country, particularly the Gauteng region, are wrestling with water shortages at the moment, leaving a good number of suburbs without water or at least very intermittent supply.
During a crisis press briefing today in Pretoria, Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Pravin Gordhan said that the public needs to be better informed.
“There needs to be a significantly higher level of empathy shown. We know that there are certain improvements that we need to make, but we’ve gotten commitments from government departments that the public needs to be better informed,” he said.
His statement on the issue come after he refused to acknowledge yesterday that the country is in crisis mode. “We do have a problem, not a crisis. A crisis would be when a problem is unmanageable,” he said.
During today’s briefing he explained that while the water shortages have been affecting a lot of people, it needs to be taken into proportion. “In Johannesburg, we have 1.4 million households. (Of that) 0.6% have had their water supplies interrupted.”
He added that more data on the exact numbers will be gathered over the next few weeks, so that “we can get some sense of what we are dealing with.”
He was also very quick to dispute claims that government and local entities such as Rand Water and Johannesburg Water have been dragging its feet to prevent this from happening.
“There have been some who’ve said we’ve only woken up now [with regards to the water crisis]. That is not true. Since 2013, the SA government has been heavily involved specifically with the Disaster Relief Centre to deal with the potential of drought. We’ve also studied El Nino and its effects.”
This graph shows how the water levels in the Vaal Dam, one of the most critical parts of the water infrastructure in Gauteng where water is stored from upriver sources in Limpopo and the Drakensberg, has changed over the last two years.
Gordhan is adamant that the crisis is being overplayed, and took a stab at the media for portraying the government as lacklustre on the crisis, he refused the claims.
“Let me be frank with you,” Gordhan said, “As political parties are moving toward the elections, they believe you as media should decry everything we do, and portray to the South African public that we have no idea what’s going on. But the contrary is true, we have plans on the ground.”
Edna Molewa, Minister in the Department for Environmental Affairs, explained the El Nino phenomenon a bit further, and how South Africa is being affected by it.
“El Nino is the heating of the ocean’s currents, and it is likely to last for the duration of the summer season. Temperatures will rise for more than 50% of Sub-Saharan Africa.”
Typically, El Nino works in seven-year cycles, with this year being the seventh for the current cycle.
She added that government has put a plan in place to deal with the crisis at a sector level and at the different levels of government.
Some of those plans include biotechnology and bio-techniques.
“The use of biotechnology and bio-techniques is already in place. We’re doing research with the Department of Agriculture to implement these new plans. We have other means, like the GMO executive council and health council.”
During the press briefing, it was also revealed that the Limpopo, Freestate, KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga, North West provinces have been declared disaster areas.
[Image – CC by 2.0/Damien du Toit]