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Droughts in SA

Despite recent rains, some areas are still recovering from the ongoing effects of the 2015 drought. It has been described as one of the worst droughts South Africa has seen in recent memory.

A drought is a time when conditions are drier than normal, leading to water-related problems. The amount of rainfall in any given location varies from year to year, but over a period of years the average amount is fairly constant.

Types of Droughts

Meteorological Drought
Imagine a great swath of parched and cracked land, and you probably imagine the effects of a meteorological drought, which occurs when rainfall in a region is far below expectations.

Agricultural Drought
When available water supplies cannot meet the needs of crops or livestock at any given time, an agricultural drought can occur. This may be due to meteorological drought, limited access to water supplies, or simply bad timing, e.g. B. when the snow melts before the drain is most needed to keep the plants hydrated.

Hydrological Drought
A hydrological drought occurs when a lack of precipitation lasts long enough to deplete surface water (rivers, reservoirs, or streams) and groundwater supplies.

An estimated 55 million people worldwide are affected by droughts each year, and they are the greatest threat to livestock and crops in almost every part of the world. Drought threatens people's livelihoods, increases the risk of disease and death, and encourages mass migration. 40% of the world's population is affected by water scarcity and up to 700 million people are at risk of drought by 2030.

The Impact of Drought


Drought can reduce the availability and quality of water needed for productive farms, ranches, and grazing land. It can also contribute to insect outbreaks, increases in wildfires, and altered carbon, nutrient, and water cycling rates, affecting agricultural production and critical ecosystem services.


The drought is affecting port and river transportation and supply chains, resulting in increased transportation costs. Higher temperatures associated with drought can affect highways, airport runways and railroads.


Drought can contribute to wildfires. Dry, hot, and windy weather combined with drier (and more flammable) vegetation can increase the likelihood of widespread wildfires.

Public Health

Droughts can have significant impacts on human health, including reduced water supply and quality, increased incidence of diseases (e.g. valley fever), adverse mental health impacts as livelihoods are threatened, and in general higher mortality rates.


Drought can alter or impair critical functions of healthy ecosystems, including reduced plant growth, reduction or extinction of local species, and landscape-scale transitions (e.g.,, a forest is replaced by a meadow).

Water Quality

During droughts, lower water levels, warmer temperatures and bottom runoff can lead to algae growth, lower dissolved oxygen levels and increased turbidity, all of which pose health risks to humans and aquatic life.

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