| November 1, 2016

The South African Weather Services has warned that the current heatwave gripping many parts of the country will continue with large parts of Gauteng Province, the country's most populous, experiencing high levels of water shortages because of an increase in water usage.

The Water Research Commission's Research Manager for Water Resource Assessment and Planning, Wandile Nomquphu, told the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) Monday that the heat wave was worsening the water crisis which had affected the countries for months now in the wake of the El Nino weather phenomenon last year.

"The heat wave is a long or prolonged period of heat or hot weather. You have a temperature that's higher for a day or more. It is excessive heat that even can cause your body to experience heat exhaustion, called hypothermia," says Nomquphu.

"And crops dry up as a result of the heat, even vegetation can dry out because of the heat. In an open surface such as a dam, the heat pummels into the water surface and heats it up and the water evaporates back into the atmosphere and as a result the water level will go down."

Nomquphu says dam levels have been affected by the drought and the lack of rain means that there is not much water flowing to the dams. "This is a problem because we use water from dams."Dam levels are measured by the Department of Water and Sanitation specifically on the dams that belong to the state. The dams are spread throughout the country," he says.

"The department takes regular measurements of the dam levels just to check what the trend is like. Dam levels have been affected by drought. The lack of rain means there is not much water flowing to the dams and yet we are using water from the dams.

"If you don't refill the dams with rain then the water levels in the dams will go down. That's what has happened. The recent statistics on the dam levels were issued on October 24, last week. In the individual dams, measurements have been taken but the department has aggregated these measurements by provinces and the levels vary from province to province."

Examples of dam levels, include the Free State Province dam levels reported to being 50.5 per cent of capacity, the North West Province levels reported at 55.8 per cent, the Northern Cape Province recorded at 56 per cent and KwaZulu-Natal Province, which has been hardest hit by the drought, reported at 41.6 per cent.

"Even in Western Cape (Province), which had their rainy season in winter, the dam levels are relatively low at 51.5 per cent so we have a rather unpleasant situation with water levels being quite low," adds Nomquphu.

"This means authorities, especially the Department of Water and Sanitation officials, they have to apply operating rules in releasing the water from the dams. There will be restrictions in some areas because there is not enough water to take us through the summer.

"We don't know if we will get enough rain to fill our dams. So, the ordinary South African should try by all means to use water sparingly. We are still in a treacherous position with regards to water it's still very bad. We can't say we are out of the drought triangle. South Africans should really save water and use it sparingly.

"I can't say for certain how much rain we need. But we need good long lasting rains to really fill the dams. We have the Vaal Dam, although we have aggregated the water levels in each province, we take dams and look at the average for the province.

"The Vaal Dam is currently at 27 per cent and one of the big storage dams in South Africa which is called Sterkfontein in Harrismith which stores huge amounts of water which gets transferred from KwaZulu-Natal Tugella into the Vaal River dam.

"It has low water levels; you can't transfer anything. We will need a lot of rain to fill up these dams that last a lot longer. The rain should fall ideally in the right region of the catchment. Normally, the rain will fall down stream of the dam which means the water will not flow into the dam.

"It's already been done. You might have heard that the southern Cape around 2009/10 experienced a devastating drought. Areas like Mossel Bay, George and Tsitsikamma experienced a massive drought, they kind of ran out of water and the only option left at the time was to desalinate sea water."

However, desalination is expensive and has a negative impact on the environment. "Desalinating requires you to have huge engineering machines. These are plants stationed along the post where you take sea water and remove the salt and they call that brine and that brine needs to be deposited somewhere," he says.

"Even in Durban, it's been done because of the shortages of water. However, it is a very expensive system and the environmental impact of that, the brine you take out of the machine you have got to put it somewhere. If you deposit it back into the sea it makes the sea water saltier than normal salinity. It is an option but an expensive option."

Meanwhile, the South African Medical Association (SAMA) has urged South Africans to avoid eating certain foods as the current heat wave continues. SAMA Chairperson in Limpopo Province, Dr Sizeka Mayewa, says people must drink a lot of water.

"Some of the foods that need to be avoided are protein-rich foods. Food such as fillets, steaks and prawns increase your metabolic rate, therefore creating a lot of heat in your body while trying to digest."

He says people have to eat a lot of vegetables and fruits, but fruits like bananas can be avoided because they take longer to digest.


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