How long have we been in a drought?

Researchers from the South African Weather Service discovered that the Western Cape Province of South Africa has experienced mild drought conditions from 1985 to 2016. However, the ramifications from the drought on agricultural and economic activity were not recognized until 2014. In 2014, they encountered their worst water shortage.  According to Botai and her team,  the province experienced their worst water shortage in 113 years from 2014 to 2017.

In reaction to the water shortage, the government imposed water restrictions and rationing on consumers while they attempted to find a supplemental water source. Recently, more restrictions have been implemented to due to the extreme shortage. Currently, the consumers are limited to thirteen gallons of water a day.

Image of a port in South Africa.
South Africa faces an ongoing drought.

The Western Cape Province is home of the Cape Town port. Usually, the weather resembles a Mediterranean climate with hot dry summers and cold winters along the coast. For agricultural production, this climate is ideal for the food they grow like apples, pears, apricots, peaches, nectarines, plums, and grapes. Agricultural production is crucial to the West Cape economy, and the food security of the country.

Due to insufficient rainfall, the province has been declared a disaster region. The west coast of the province and Central Karoo are categorized as an agricultural drought disaster area. This means that there is insufficient soil and subsoil water to promote crop growth. Eden and Central Karoo are the municipalities most impacted by the drought on their crops as a result of warm temperature and evapotranspiration. Typically, the region has intense rainfall during the summers.  In addition to these municipalities, Overberg, Cape Winelands, and West Coast experienced mild drought conditions. However, the lands were traditionally characterized by winter rainfall with sunny and dry summers.

The researchers suggest the drought was offset by decreasing rainfall. Consequently, their water reservoirs are below 30% capacity.

Image of West Cape Province map signifying weather station and relative percipitation.
Figure 1, supplemented by Botai’s article, shows the study area and distribution of select water stations in red circles. The circle sizes are relative to the Mean Annual Precipitation recorded at stations.

Although this trend may appear to be isolated, severe droughts and water shortages have become prevalent in the states in case like California, Texas, Oklahoma; and the world in cases like Ethiopia, Somalia, Afghanistan, Iran, China. This has prompted meetings with officials from government, private sector, and other sectors to address this crisis. In these circumstances, it may be useful to utilize forecast on precipitation to prepare for drought similar to this one.


Source: Botai, C.M., Botai, J.O., de Wit, J.P., Ncongwane, K.P., Adeola, A.M. 2017. Drought Characteristics over the Western Cape Province, South Africa. MDPI 9:876.

2 Replies to “How long have we been in a drought?”

  1. Interesting read! Very scary information that’s pertinent to situations all over the globe. Hopefully more research will come out finding solutions to water scarcity!

  2. You read the article taking it as an isolated event. But then you read the last sentence and it leaves you thinking how you could be in the same scenario as those people in the Western Cape Province of SA.

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