DROUGHT: THE HARD TIMES COMING
South Africa is in the middle of drought. The drought has been intensified by El Nino, a global weather pattern that causes dryer conditions, The media and mainstream politicians give the impression that the drought, is the only cause of water shortage and is temporary. But this is not the case.
Droughts are e now expected to occur more frequently due to climate change. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change says that water crises are likely to get worse in the near future, due to climate change. Periods of drought are likely to persist and rainfall will become less consistent.
This year, many provinces, especially rural and agricultural provinces such as KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga, North West, Limpopo and Free State are experiencing water shortages. This has contributed to the fall in agricultural output. The most recent gross domestic product (GDP) figures revealed that the agricultural sector had contracted by more than 17% in the last quarter. This obviously triggers increase in food prices, in everything from maize and grains to meat, poultry and dairy products.
In the midst of this water shortage, the government has appealed for reductions in water use, especially for domestic use. For example, people are being told to use less water for lawns, car-wash, baths, etc. But the government does not tell the big corporations such in mining or energy to cut their water usage. Eskom currently uses coal to generate electricity, but burning coal to produce electricity is an incredibly water-intensive process. Coal-fired power stations use significantly more water than is needed for renewable energy technologies, which are mostly water-free.
Looming fracking in Kwa-Zulu Natal and Northern Cape will add to the existing water shortage. Fracking uses huge volumes of water to drive gases out of the rock, and therefore damages the environment. It also adds to the volume of greenhouse gases, therefore making climate change worse. Yet regardless of this, government together with big corporations remains resolute to go ahead with fracking.
Like fracking, mining corporations use huge volumes of water, and also they are responsible for water pollutions such as the contamination of groundwater and surface water by acidic water pumped out of the mines. Agribusiness also uses enormous amounts of water through flood irrigation methods.
According to Greenpeace, a shift to eco-agriculture and drip irrigation (sometimes called micro-irrigation) could save water and help to fight climate change, the main culprit which contributes to water shortage. But this will require big transformation in agriculture in South Africa towards an ecological option that is better able to cope with droughts.
The government is not prepared to challenge the profit of big corporations, and therefore cannot solve the water crisis. Solving the water crisis would require reconceptualising water, to stop seeing it as an economic asset for capital accumulation to recognize it instead as an essential resource for life, human welfare and ecological sustainability. It is misleading to think that these profit-driven corporations are going to resort to water saving measures and contribute to a fight against climate change. The bottom line is that there can be no solution to the water crisis that does not challenge the current economic system at its roots.
A better future with a more secure water supply is possible, but it will take a fight to achieve. Now it’s up to ordinary people to organize and mobilize to change the economic system focused on profit. Instead of an economy based on competition and exploitation, we need one based on cooperation, solidarity, and democracy. The fight to lessen the effects of climate change which contributes to the current drought or water crisis can’t be separated from the struggle to transform society as a whole.