This week, during a presentation to Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development, it was indicated that over R1.3 billion is needed to contain the effects of the ongoing drought crisis and its impact on the agricultural sector. The cost outlay for the Northern Cape and Eastern Cape alone stands at over R1 billion. Rural populations and their livelihoods are at risk if no immediate action is taken.
In many towns across the nation the taps have quite literally run dry. Businesses are unable to continue with their operations, jobs are being shed and farmers are unable to irrigate their land and feed their livestock.
As such, the Democratic Alliance (DA) proposes four steps that Government can take to bring immediate relief to drought-stricken areas.
1. Declaration of National Drought State of Disaster
The DA has been left with no option but to request that President Cyril Ramaphosa acts to facilitate the declaration of a national drought state of disaster to mitigate the effects of the ongoing national drought crisis. Repeated requests for such a declaration to the Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, have been ignored. The Minister’s indifference is appalling in light of this crippling drought disaster.
The need for immediate action to avert a national disaster has never been this urgent. Declaring a national drought state of disaster will mean that national and provincial government departments will have to reprioritise spending, in existing budget allocations, to provide the requisite assistance to struggling farmers, farmworkers and local rural economies. For farmers, this financial assistance is needed for livestock feed, water infrastructure, borehole drilling, desilting of dams, replanting costs and servicing of agricultural loans.
Following a declaration of a national drought state of disaster, the DA proposes the following interventions:
2. Temporary Jobs Fund
The provision of a temporary transition compensation fund to prevent a job’s bloodbath, particularly in the agricultural sector, is critical. As a result of the crippling drought across the country, farmers have been forced to lay off workers to cut costs to ensure they remain in business. Since January 2018, agriculture has shed 31 000 jobs in provinces severely affected by drought. Failure to protect jobs in the agricultural sector will worsen poverty levels and the plight of residents who rely on agricultural jobs in rural provinces such as the Northern Cape, Eastern Cape and North West.
The DA proposes that a temporary jobs fund is set up to assist with the paying of wages of some of the worst-hit farms. A temporary jobs fund will not only help prevent further job losses but it will help free up much-needed funds to provide for livestock feed, water infrastructure, borehole drilling, desilting of dams and covering any replanting costs.
3. The Cape Town Model
National government should consider the key lessons offered by the City of Cape Town in dealing with water crises. At the heart of the City’s response to its Day Zero crisis were key interventions, such as the effective demand management and maintenance interventions for the water reticulation system and a dedicated communication campaign, accompanied by an incentivisation programme which encouraged residents to adapt to climate change. The City of Cape Town also repurposed rates-funded budgets to fund water projects and water resilient strategies, through the introduction of Level 6B water restrictions.
4. Intensifying Water Infrastructure Projects
An inter-departmental effort should be set up between the National Treasury, Department of Water and Sanitation, Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs and the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development to develop a strategy for the completion of big-budget water infrastructure projects. Government’s chronic inability to manage big-budget capital projects has largely contributed to the ongoing water crisis.
National government can no longer continue burying its head in the sand while a humanitarian crisis is unfolding across the nation. Droughts across the country have reached disaster levels and are fast becoming one of the biggest challenges facing our country. President Ramaphosa should show leadership on the drought crisis and ensure immediate assistance is given to affected communities.