Drought Policy - Water Issues


This paper is part of a series of papers which have been called for by the Minister of Agriculture to contribute towards the development of a national policy on drought in South Africa. The objective of this paper is to highlight water related aspects of drought in the country and to suggest critical policy requirements associated with the management of water in order both to reduce the risk of drought and to reduce its impact.

It is a statement of the obvious that water is the most critical factor related to drought. Whilst lack of water is the primary cause of drought, there are a large number of factors which exacerbate and intensify the effects of lack of water. If these factors, many of which have little to do with water per se, are adequately managed, the consequences of the lack of water can be greatly reduced. For this reason drought management policy must take into account a wide variety of factors.

This paper seeks to clarify some of the common terms used in the water sector, based on current international perspectives, and it sets out some of the factors, as mentioned above, which exacerbate drought.


The Situation in South Africa

Most of South Africa enjoys a mild, temperate climate. Precipitation varies spatially across the country and it has high seasonal variability. It also varies greatly annually with cycles of drought, the period of which is the subject of debate. About 890 mm of precipitation falls yearly in the Eastern Lowveld and the Eastern Uplands as far west as the Drakensberg. The High Veld receives about 380 to 760 mm of precipitation annually, the amount diminishing rapidly toward the west. On the western coast rainfall is often as low as 50 mm annually. The average rainfall is 500mm per annum which is 60% of the world average.

Because 61% of the country receives a rainfall of less than 500mm rainfall annually, which is considered the minimum for successful dryland farming, and because 21% receives less than 200 mm, the country depends very much on the transfer of bulk water from wetter regions to dryer, but more highly populated, industrial and mining centres of the country. This is rapidly becoming less feasible, however, and greater attention will have to be paid to the management of demand and more efficient use of water.

South Africa has had relatively sophisticated water resource management capabilities for a number of years. These have concentrated on a supply orientated approach which has been targeted at ensuring that the industrial and commercial agricultural sectors have been sufficiently well provided for to ensure uninhibited growth. This has resulted in unprecedented infrastructure development which includes large inter-basin transfer schemes. This development has not, however, been equitably implemented by the previous government which has resulted in large disparities.

As indicated in Table 1 below, the demand for water in South Africa as a whole will soon exceed available resources. Already it is estimated that several river basins (out of a total of 22) experience annual net shortages of water, the magnitude of which varies from year to year depending on the severity of localised drought conditions.


Table 1 Current and projected water demand (cu km/yr)
















































South Africa




































Total Available has been calculated as 60 percent of the Absolute Total, the amount hydrologists assume as available for human use. Countries where demand in 2020 will surpass total available have been high-lighted.

(Source: Heyns, P. "Water Demand and Supply Management", in SARDC, 1994, p 197.)

Table 2 Current and projected demand in South Africa by sector


Demand (x 106 m3)

  1993 2010


Municipal use

Urban use

Power generation



Stock watering


Nature conservation





















Table 2 indicates the sectoral use of water in South Africa and how that is projected to grow in the near future. It is clear that greater attention is going to have to be paid to demand management but a clear commitment to this is not evident in current policy and legislative development.


Defining Water Scarcity and Drought

"In popular usage, "scarcity" is a situation where there is insufficient water to satisfy normal requirements. However, this common-sense definition is of little use to policy-makers and planners. There are degrees of scarcity: absolute, life-threatening, seasonal, temporary, cyclical, etc. Populations with normally high levels of consumption may experience temporary scarcity more keenly than other societies accustomed to using much less water. Scarcity often arises because of socio-economic trends having little to do with basic needs. Defining scarcity [and drought] for policy-making purposes is very difficult."

Much is said about drought in South Africa. Often, however, there is little common understanding of the terms used, which can result in serious misunderstanding, particularly in times of stress. If drought were defined as an unusually dry period, then, given the semi-arid climate of most of the country, being "drought prone" is a contradiction in terms. Drought is probably more popularly understood in South Africa as having insufficient water to undertake certain activities which have come to be accepted as "normal". Undertaking dryland cropping in areas of the country where the long term annual rainfall is equal to or less than the minimum required to successfully sustain such activities, will inevitably lead to "drought", although this is more an indication of unwise farming than of unusual weather.

Except for purposes of defining specific points of intervention during times of progressive water shortage, it is probably a waste of time and effort to attempt to arrive at an over rigorous definition of drought. What is clear is that regions within the country experience periodic times of water shortage which constitute a serious threat to life and livelihood. In recent years the international community have moved towards the adoption of several terms which assist in clarifying the debate.

Four terms have been developed for the purposes of greater clarity: water shortage, water scarcity, water stress and water security. The use of these terms is the subject of considerable international debate.

Water shortage is used to describe an absolute shortage where levels of available water do not meet certain defined minimum requirements. The actual quantity that determines a per capita minimum may differ from place to place.

Water scarcity is a more relative concept describing the relationship between demand for water and its availability. The demands may vary considerably between different countries and different regions within a given country depending on the sectoral usage of water. A country with a high industrial demand or which depends on large scale irrigation will therefore be more likely to experience times of scarcity than a country with similar climatic conditions without such demands. Countries such as Rwanda, for example, would be classified by most standards as suffering water shortage but, because of low industrial and irrigation utilisation, would not be classified as water scarce.

Water stress is the symptomatic consequence of scarcity which may manifest itself as increasing conflict over sectoral usage, a decline in service levels, crop failure, food insecurity etc.. This term is analogous to the common use of the term "drought".

Water security is a situation of reliable and secure access to water over time. It does not equate to constant quantity of supply as much as predictability, which enables measures to be taken in times of scarcity to avoid stress.


Regional Realities

Political and administrative boundaries are seldom drawn along lines which are logical from a hydrological perspective. This, together with the tendency for drought to affect large areas of the sub-continent at the same time, makes it very important to address the problems of water scarcity and its effects in close co-operation with our neighbours. Not only is this important in terms of ordinary good neighbourliness but, in such a region as Southern Africa, no country will be unaffected by the consequences of disaster in a neighbouring country. The pressure of displaced persons and the problems of illegal immigration have been experienced in the region as a result of armed conflict and droughts in the past.


Determining Water Shortage and Water Scarcity

There are a number of problems related to determining water shortage and water scarcity. In general, national average figures are used which mask annual variability from year to year, seasonal variability and the regional variability within countries.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations regards water as a severe constraint on socio-economic development and environmental protection at levels of internal renewable water availability of less than 1 000 m3/capita. At levels of water availability of less than 2000 m3/capita, water is regarded as a potentially serious constraint, and a major problem in drought years. Water scarcity provides a measure of the sensitivity of a given situation to drought. In situations where the average availability of water per capita is low, even slight variations can render whole communities unable to cope and create disaster conditions.

Water scarcity is a relative concept – it is partly a "social construct" in that it is determined both by the availability of water and by consumption patterns. Because of the large number of factors which influence both availability and consumption, the determining of water scarcity will vary widely from country to country and from region to region within a country. Adopting a global figure to indicate water scarcity should therefore be done with great caution. Whilst a threshold such as 1000m3/capita may be useful for purposes of comparison, it should be carefully used because it may understate situations of potentially serious water stress.

Because the concept of water scarcity is a social construct or, put in other terms, a matter of political and economic perception, it may be more useful to describe water scarcity as a particular mix of availability and demand at which water stress occurs, rather than a per capita figure. This means that its determination is more qualitative than quantitative, as the point at which water scarcity occurs may vary widely from one situation to another. In a semi-arid highly industrialised country or in a country where food security is dependent upon the extensive use of irrigation, the aggregated per capita figure at which water becomes sufficiently scarce to cause internal or transboundary conflict may be a lot higher than in a temperate, less highly developed country.


Causes of Water Scarcity

The causes of water scarcity are varied. Some are natural and others are as a result of human activity. The current debate sites the causes as largely deterministic in that scarcity is a result of identifiable cause and effect. However, if water scarcity is the point at which water stress occurs (the point at which various conflicts arise, harvests fail and the like), then there are also less definable sociological and political causes. Many of the causes are inter-related and are not easily distinguished. Some of the main causes are listed below. The list is not in order of priority although some causes have greater impact than others.

6.1 Population growth

The main cause of growing water scarcity is the growing demand resulting from population increase. The population growth rate for each country in southern Africa varies between 2.2 and 3.8 %. The increase in demand for water arises out of several factors related to population growth. The direct consumption demands of the population is relatively small. The major increase in demand is due to the development needs of the growing population and, primarily, from the need to grow sufficient food to feed the increasing population.

6.2 Food production

The region is already experiencing considerable problems in relation to food security. None of the countries in SADC were able to weather the droughts of the early 1990s without outside assistance or the importing of considerable quantities of cereal. As the demand for food increases with increasing population, the position is reached where even in good years there will be insufficient water to meet the demands. This raises the debate of food security and self-sufficiency. Some countries in the region – notably Botswana – having realised that there is insufficient water available to ensure self-sufficiency in food production and have consequently opted to ensure food security through economic growth. In time of need, food is imported. This constitutes a reliance on "virtual water" which is the water required to produce the food at its point of production rather than needing that water to be available at the point of consumption.

South Africa can be regarded as both requiring internal transfers of food stuffs when regions within the country are unable to meet local needs, and requiring the import of food stuffs when there is a net shortage throughout the country.

6.3 Climatic change and variability

There is a great deal of debate regarding the issue of global climate change. Whilst there is a wide-spread view that global warming is happening, this is yet to be conclusively scientifically proven and the effect of this phenomenon on water resources is unknown. The consensus is that the effect will be to accentuate the extremes with more pronounced droughts and more severe flooding.

6.4 Land use

Land use changes have a variety of impacts on water resources. Whilst reduction of vegetation cover may result in greater run off, it reduces groundwater infiltration and the storage capacity of dams and lakes through siltation. The draining of large scale wet-lands or large scale deforestation may change the micro-climate of a region.

The need for improved farming methods and greater understanding of the soil/water interface is evident in many parts of the country. The consequences of poor land management and farming methods is to push communities ever closer to the point of vulnerability where even small changes in conditions can have disastrous effects.

Another issue related to land use is the development of "thirsty" crops, particularly in sensitive areas such as mountain catchments. An example is forestry development. Whilst this can offer employment and a variety of other benefits, there are cases where the runoff from such areas is substantially reduced causing water scarcity for down stream users.

6.5 Water quality

Pollution of water supplies reduces the availability of water for use. This is particularly severe during times of water shortages. In times of plenty the ability of a river to accept a given pollution load is greater because of greater dilution factors. As water becomes more scarce, therefore, rivers and streams become increasingly sensitive to the effects of pollution, as do those human and other living oganisms which depend on the water.

Water contamination can result from a variety of causes including agricultural return flows, industry, and domestic uses. Pollution can take the form of both point source and diffuse contamination. Both surface and groundwater are often affected. Destruction of the riverine environment reduces the natural ability of the river to cope with pollution.

6.6 Water demand

A growing and unmanaged demand for water will hasten the arrival of conditions of scarcity. The widespread misconception by many people that there is plenty of water and that the only problem is getting it to the right place at the right time still persists as a residue from the era of supply driven water resources management. Moving to a deliberate and purposeful policy scenario of demand management is urgently required of South Africa and other governments in the SACD region, although this may not be politically palatable in the short term. Reducing and managing the demand for water, enforcing greater efficiency of use and introducing water conservation measures requires policy and legislative attention.

6.7 Poverty and economic policy

Poverty is a major factor in water scarcity and susceptibility to drought. This can be illustrated in a number of ways. Firstly, as was seen in the drought emergency of the early 1990s in South Africa, the price of water in rural areas for basic survival can become very high. As traditional sources failed, people did not have the resources to provide alternatives (such as drilling new boreholes) and had to resort to buying water from vendors at extremely high costs. In periods of stress, those communities which have resources and access to credit, are able to survive. In other words, a given situation of water shortage will have more extreme consequences for the poor than for the rich – for one set of people it will spell disaster and for the other it will mean only inconvenience.

It is for this reason that the macro economic policy of a country, and its effectiveness in addressing poverty, will have an important role in determining what constitutes conditions of water stress. Similar climatic conditions in two countries will cause famine in the poorer country and a temporary, limited economic depression in the wealthier country.

6.8 Legislation and water resource management

Poor or inadequate legislation can exacerbate the effects of water scarcity. Water law which gives certain users exclusive rights to use of water is necessary to provide security for investment (usually in the agricultural sector), but it can result in other users being put in serious jeopardy during times of scarcity. Whilst existing and future water law in South Africa will no doubt protect the rights of all people to basic minimum supplies of water, a legislative system which is not equitable will result in restrictions on the development of some sectors of society. This is clearly illustrated in the effects of the riparian doctrine in the existing Water Act (1956).

The management of water resources and the policies guiding the development of water resources can also have a direct effect on the ability of some sectors to survive periods of water scarcity. If these are inequitable, inefficient, or do not provide for at least the basic needs of all citizens, then a particular occurrence of water scarcity will result in conditions of drought where, if the water resource management regime had been different, this would have been avoided.

6.9 International waters

The use of water in international rivers by upstream countries may lead to conditions of drought in downstream countries. South Africa has many international rivers and is in the position of being both an upstream and downstream riparian country. This is a problem which is obviously exacerbated during times of scarcity. It is important that communication is maintained between riparian countries through a variety of mechanisms including special protocols, joint commissions, memoranda of agreement, treaties etc.. It is important that these are established during times of plenty rather than in times of crisis. The effect of proper and equitable sharing of international water resources is to assist in avoiding disaster conditions in neighbouring states and to avoid the inevitable social, economic and political repercussions of these conditions within South Africa.

6.10 Sectoral resources and institutional capacity

Knowing what needs to be done and implementing it are two separate issues. Because of the overall economic status of most of the countries in Southern Africa, the resources to implement programmes designed to reduce water scarcity are very limited. This is also the cause of institutional weaknesses which result in overbearing bureaucracy and inefficiencies. Although South Africa does not have the same economic problems of its neighbours, very little has been invested in the past in implementing sound disaster management policy. In South Africa it is not so much a matter of lack of resources as a lack of will.

Institutional and financial weakness results in water not being available which could otherwise have relieved water scarcity.

6.11 Sectoral professional capacity

Closely related to the financial and institutional circumstances noted above is the critical problem facing water sector professionals. South Africa and the region is not without highly competent and motivated professionals, but the conditions of employment and the incentives are generally not able to compete, particularly with those offered in the private sector. Disaster management has not been a professional option where experience and expertise have been developed in South Africa. The lack of sufficient expertise to manage water resources and develop and implement policy is a direct contributor to water scarcity.

6.12 Political realities

Politicians and decision-makers are the persons who have greatest influence on the allocation of scarce budgets and the adoption of policy. Unfortunately, the horizons of many politicians do not coincide with the horizons of prudent water resource management, resulting in decisions being made on the basis of short term political expediency. To have the political will to develop policy and supportive legislation which will introduce the discipline necessary to manage water scarcity in South Africa and the sub-Continent, requires considerable political courage and foresight. Political tension and conflict within countries and between countries often have a greater influence on de facto policy than the practice of sound water policy.

6.13 Sociological issues

There are a number of sociological and cultural issues which exacerbate the water scarcity situation. These are often as a result of practices which were not originally a threat to the environment but have become a threat as population pressures and modern consumerism increases. The resulting pressures on the environment, for example from over grazing, have a direct and detrimental effect on water resources.

Other phenomena such as racism, tribalism and civil war also result in critical incidences of water scarcity for some sectors of the population. The apartheid era in South Africa resulted in large proportions of the population suffering critical shortages of water whilst neighbouring communities enjoyed, and often wasted, an excess of water. The protracted civil wars in Angola and Mozambique have resulted in the already limited infrastructure being destroyed or lapsing into disrepair. The long-term economic and social impacts of these issues often predetermine the overall political and economic framework from which many of the other causes of water scarcity stem.


Drought Policy

Drought policy can be divided into four main sections:

  • Mitigation policy which seeks to create conditions which will avoid water stress and drought.

  • Monitoring and prediction which should contribute to a broad early warning system.

  • Drought management policy to be implemented during drought conditions.

  • Policy regarding institutional arrangements for drought mitigation, early warning and management.

7.1 Mitigation policy

In order to effectively mitigate against drought, the "root causes" need to be addressed. Drought management is too often restricted to treating the symptoms, often when it is too late and when only a relief function can be performed.

As can be seen from the variety of factors which are quoted above as causing or exacerbating drought conditions, a multi-sectoral approach needs to be adopted which involves a wide variety of different government and other parties. Advocacy is required to ensure that these different bodies understand the impact of their policies on conditions of water scarcity and drought vulnerability. It is therefore necessary to give attention to the policies of several government departments at both national and provincial level. Local Government plays a critical role in disaster relief, particularly in the mobilisation of local resources.

In terms of the directly water related elements of drought policy, the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry obviously plays an important role. The Department has been undertaking substantial policy and legislative reform over the past few years. This has been in two primary areas : the provision of water services (including sanitation) and water resources management.

Water services: The provision of local services such as water supply and sanitation is a local government competency in terms of the new Constitution. Local government is in the process of being established throughout the country at present. The capacity of District Councils and Local Councils to provide services is very limited. There are a number of programmes sponsored by various government departments underway at present which are aimed at supporting local government and building capacity. Because of the legitimate demand for services from the people and the current lack of capacity at local level to meet this demand, the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry has undertaken a very large scale infrastructure development programme to provide water services at local level.

This programme will certainly assist communities to withstand times of water scarcity better than they have been able to in the past. The concern, however, must be raised as to whether or not these systems are specifically designed to withstand prolonged periods of low rainfall. What is the "surety of supply" for which systems are designed? There is an urgent need to ensure that current projects are designed with adequate surety of supply (for example, the depth to which boreholes are drilled) – it remains to be seen how many of the projects currently under construction, will continue to be functional through the next inevitable series of dry years.

Whilst brief mention of the need to take drought and other disaster circumstances into account is made in both the White Paper on Water Supply and Sanitation (DWAF, November 1994) and the National Water Policy (DWAF, May 1997), this does not constitute adequate national policy on the issue.

The Water Services Bill which is before Parliament at present, does not contain the word "drought" and nor does it provide specific provision for emergency situations arising out of water shortages and drought. Whilst it does provide for contingency action to be taken in the event of "emergencies", and for the Minister or his/her representative to take over the running of local functions, there is still a need for specific drought / water shortage legislation. The present process of adoption of the Water Services Bill provides an opportunity to include suitable legislation on these matters.

Local Government, in the drafting of their by-laws and regulations, should be encouraged to incorporate provision for mitigation, monitoring and emergency activities so that when crisis strikes, they are prepared.

Water resources management policy: The National Water Policy of the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry acknowledges that most of South Africa has a semi-arid climate and is subject to extremes of flooding and drought but it contains no specific policy regarding drought management.

The document also emphasises the need to protect and care for the country’s water resources and the need for demand management to be exercised, but it does not emphasise this sufficiently as a drought mitigation strategy.

"Main attention in the (SADC) region today is directed almost exclusively on the inherently conflict-generating attempts at increasing supply; in the long run, however, the need for a completely new water use regime will have to be contemplated, aimed at refining methods of water demand management, water awareness, conservation and recycling of existing water; and even restructuring industry and agriculture, in order to maximise the economic use of available water resources."

Therefore, whilst the National Water Policy provides a context for the development of drought policy, it does not, in itself, adequately address the issue.

Other sources of mitigation policy: There is a need to review the policies of all relevant government departments in all spheres of government, national, provincial and local, in terms of the wide variety of issues mentioned above. This is a substantial undertaking for which resources need to be allocated.

Policy alone is insufficient – it often does not get beyond the government departments where it is prepared. Public awareness and education regarding the realities of our climate, our natural resources and our vulnerability to crisis, needs to be promoted as a specific mitigation strategy.

7.2 Monitoring and prediction of water resources

Monitoring and prediction is an on-going assessment of water resources at a number of levels – at the level of the sub-continent, the country as a whole and at regional level within the country. The two main factors which need to be monitored are surface water resources and groundwater. Surface water includes the flow in springs, streams and rivers, and the amount of stored water in dams, both the large government dams and in farm dams which represent an important local resource. Ground water is a critical resource, particularly in a semi arid climate. Ground water constitutes the primary resource for many thousands of rural communities and a number of large rural towns throughout the country. The monitoring of groundwater levels is therefore very important to provide a regional picture of the availability and health of acquifers.

On the basis of current data and historical records, it is possible to predict the future availability of the resource and therefore to manage it through taking appropriate measures. The objective of monitoring and prediction is to be able to take pre-emptive action in the management of resources to avoid or alleviate crises.

Monitoring is done by a number of government agents throughout the country as an existing and ongoing function. Thus the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry monitors in-stream flows in rivers and the levels of dams. Much of this information is publicly available. Many of the larger river basins have active river basin management plans and all major dams have operating plans. These functions are best carried out by the respective line function departments. The objectives of the monitoring and management are, however, varied. Usually the objective is to ensure the most efficient and economically beneficial use of the resource which may at times be in conflict with the objectives of disaster mitigation and management, particularly when those most at risk are the least economically and politically powerful and the least aware of potential threat. It is therefore important that the information is made available to a third-party institution charged with disaster monitoring and prediction.

There are a number of related areas which are related to, or indicators of, drought and water scarcity, where information needs to be monitored and evaluated. These are factors such as climatic information, agricultural information, economic indicators and social indicators. All such information, although collected by various line-function departments, needs to be collated and reviewed as a whole in order to provide a comprehensive disaster monitoring and prediction service. Data collection and analysis is carried out by a number of government departments and agencies at present but there is little or no co-ordination. This strongly suggests the need for the establishment of a suitable agency which is independent of any particular line function department.

7.3 Drought management

With the best mitigation policies and the most sophisticated monitoring and prediction systems, disasters will still occur. Some disasters, particularly drought, are not immediate and unpredictable. They are progressive and can thus be managed, to a degree. A critical factor in the effectiveness of disaster management is the preparedness of policy, management strategies, pre-determined intervention criteria and emergency action plans. A great deal of valuable time can be lost and confusion caused if the planning for intervention only happens when the disaster has already struck. This was certainly the experience during the 1992 drought crisis in the country. A great deal of time was spent in initial organisation, building a basis for co-operation, defining responsibilities, securing finance and other peripheral activities before any support was able to reach the people who really needed it.

Preparedness for crisis should, however, not be rigid and deterministic. There is need for both careful pre-crisis planning and flexibility. Some of the key factors of effective disaster management are decisiveness, the lack of bureaucracy, good communications, motivated personnel and effective leadership.

A disaster management plan in relation to water under conditions of progressive scarcity should have a number of factors. These include:

A clear and unambiguous process of progressive declaration which sets out the following:

  • the pre-determined conditions of declaration,

  • to what precise area the declaration applies,

  • how the declaration is made and communicated,

  • who is responsible for determining the point of declaration,

  • who is responsible for making the declaration, and

  • what conditions, restrictions or activities will be imposed or required as a result of the declaration.

  • How compliance monitoring and enforcement will be achieved and by whom.

  • What institutions will be involved, how different agents will communicate, what co-ordination and command structure will be established and maintained.

  • What resources will be available, what procurement procedures will apply and how field operation will be financed and controlled.

A disaster management plan would include the progressive application of water restrictions at different points of declaration. Water restrictions are generally applied differently to different user sectors. The priority should be given to the maintenance of health and safety of the population. Restrictions are a precautionary measure in order to delay or avoid the next declaration of severity. They should be applied with caution, however, as they may have far-reaching economic and social consequences such as the loss of production and income. Restrictions should not only be in terms of water quantity but also quality. As water becomes more scarce, the effects of pollution become more pronounced. A given pollution load, which was easily accommodated during times of plenty, may render the reduced flow of a river during a drought unfit for use.

Plans for direct intervention in instances of extreme crisis must be prepared as part of the disaster management plan. These plans, in relation to emergency water supplies, should include all the activities required to provide emergency basic water supplies (and sanitation facilities) in order to save lives and avoid migration. By the time a crisis reaches such proportions it is highly likely that other relief activities such as nutrition and feeding support will also be happening. It is important to co-ordinate activities as far as possible. This is only likely to happen if a single drought management structure exists.

Whilst the immediate objective of crisis intervention is to save lives, all activities should be undertaken in a manner which improves the capacity of individuals, families and local communities to fend for themselves. This calls for a "developmental" approach to relief which has both a mitigating effect for future periods of hardship and results in relief investments having a longer effective life. This is very difficult to achieve, as was experienced during the 1992/3 drought crisis. Most of the boreholes installed for crisis relief purposes were not adequately maintained and became inoperative in a very short period of time. However, the amount of time and effort required to train local people to maintain the installations and to develop the local institutional capacity to ensure local ownership was beyond the resources of the relief effort. Some of these occurrences might have been avoided if adequate disaster management plans had been prepared before the crisis struck.

It is clear that effective disaster management is very complex and difficult to achieve. The most important factor in establishing effective disaster management is the institutional and organisational base.


Institutional Requirements for Effective Disaster Management

The single most important requirement for the successful establishment of effective disaster management in South Africa is the institutional base for a public sector organisation or agency responsible for the function in the country.

It is strongly suggested that a public institution be established as soon as possible to perform the functions of :

  • Developing and advocating disaster mitigating policy across a broad front,

  • Monitoring and prediction (early warning),

  • Disaster management and intervention.

The characteristics of such an institution would need to include:

  • Independence from any single line-function government department,

  • An independent and adequate budget,

  • The mandate and ability to undertake independent research into the root causes of drought and to develop policy.

  • Authority to have access to the required information in a variety of government departments,

  • A basis of empowering legislation defining the functions and powers of the institution and its officers,

  • Adequate human resources with leadership and management capacity.

  • An ability to work with a wide range of other organisations including NGOs, the private sector, the governments of neighbouring countries and international agencies.

Such an institution would need to employ staff from a variety of disciplines including agriculture, economics, water resource management, communications, health, nutrition and other. The unit may be able to function on a minimal core staff for most of the time but have the ability to draw on seconded or short-term staff during times of crisis.



This is a brief document covering many different issues related to water scarcity and drought. In conclusion, the following points provide a summary of critical issues which need to be addressed if disaster management is to be successfully and sustainably implemented in South Africa:

  • Difficult and far reaching decisions need to be made during times of plenty to be able to manage during times of scarcity. Political foresight and will is required to make these decisions.

  • An institutional structure is required to manage drought which is best situated outside of any particular line function government department and which has the authority to implement policies timeously and effectively when appropriate.

  • Clear policy is required on the basis of which the management of water resources during times of scarcity is performed. Multi-sectoral policies are required in a number of sectors, particularly the water sector, to ensure greater water security for the country, such as the implementation of water demand management measures in industry and agriculture.

  • Procedures and measures need to be designed, including emergency contingency plans, prior to emergencies to create a situation of readiness for the country.

  • Monitoring and prediction tools need to be set up to monitor the condition of the country’s surface and ground water resources as part of an early warning system.