The science of climate change is not an open question in Africa. The only question is how quickly safe drinking water can be rushed to the countries now experiencing their worst droughts in decades.
Water shortages are the frightening new future for African cities and towns.
The southern Africa nation of Botswana is one of the worst hit, U.N. expert Leo Heller confirmed.
Heller, the U.N.’s Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights to Safe Drinking Water, toured close to a dozen communities, health facilities and schools in a recent 9-day trip. His findings were troubling.
In an official statement, the Rapporteur reported “an alarming level of highly precarious water supply in these villages – in some cases with no public provision at all.”
“Available water resources are getting lower over time. With the influence of climate change, rainfalls are already decreasing, and the temperature rise in Botswana is expected to exceed the world average.
“In addition to the scarcity, the country suffers a geographically uneven distribution of water, as more and more population concentrate in the urban areas in the South where rainfalls are lower.
Water rationing, ordered by the Ministry of Minerals, Energy and Water Resources, has been providing only limited areas of the capital city, Greater Gaborone, with a regular supply of water. Some areas, said the U.N. expert, had water with low pressure and others had no water at all.
Those who can afford to pay are stockpiling water in large tanks or in buckets while a clinic in the Greater Gaborone Area, has no water, he said. “They were preparing to buy a water tank with Government support. But this kind of contingency plan must be put in place in advance,” he chided.
While rationing of water may be unavoidable in extreme situations, he said, “frequent lack of water inside pipelines can lead to increased contamination of the water mains through intrusion of harmful substances.“ Leakage and inefficient management practices were blamed for the largest loss of water resources.
This week, local Botswana media were reporting “worrying low levels” at the Letsibogo Dam which supplies water to the 500,000 residents of the capital, Gaborone, and surrounding villages.
Lucas Makepe, acting general manager of the Water Utilities Corporation (WUC) was quoted to say that water levels have now dropped to 39 percent, which is considered very low.
“Simply put, the dam has reached a crisis level,” he said in an interview.
According to the WUC, Gaborone Dam and Bokaa Dam have both failed, removing the 112 million litres per day they used to provide at peak. Molatedi Dam in South Africa, which used to provide 20 million litres per day at peak, is now at about nine percent and only provides five million litres for 12 hours.
Water Resources minister Kitso Mokaila attempted to be upbeat: “Yes, there’s a problem and we are fully aware and have been since we started rationing in November 2012 and we know what we are doing about it.”
His optimism was echoed by President Ian Khama in his State of the Union address, saying: “The 2014/15 cropping season experienced drought conditions, which resulted in complete crop failure in many areas. …Despite the poor rains, there were a number of farmers who improved their productivity through the adoption of methods such as the use of fertilizers, use of hybrid seeds and row planting.”