Livestock farmers in the Eastern Cape are monitoring dam levels with bated breath as provincial water storage levels continue to linger below the 50% mark. Farmers are worried that they might lose more livestock due to the prolonged drought, which has resulted in water shortages in many parts of province.
While dam levels in the rest of the country are looking relatively good, the Eastern Cape sits at the bottom of the barometer. According to human settlements, water and sanitation spokesperson Sputnik Ratau, the Eastern Cape is yet to recover from the protracted drought which has seen the province suffer for several years now.
Water storage levels, he says, continue to decline, as has been consistently the case for months due to a lack of rain in the province. “The water stored in the province’s reservoirs declined to 49.3% [last week] from 49.8% [the week before].
“To illustrate the effects of drought in the province, the water supply systems in the province are also struggling to recover as they continue to decline to low levels week on week.”
Farmers recollect losses
With the losses of recent years still fresh in their memory, farmers fear losing more livestock as dam levels fail to rise. In some regions, dams have even added to their misery.
In the OR Tambo region, livestock have died in large numbers since the dawn of the prolonged drought. Farmers report that even when it rained, dams could not hold enough water due to either silted catchments or damaged dam walls.
Farmers of Lusikisiki, in the Ingquza Hill Municipality where poverty is rife and the majority of locals make a living from livestock farming and sales, have suffered the same fate.
According to livestock farmer Dulamile Nomonti, the Mzimvubu dam has brought them nothing but pain.
“This dam was informally known as a dam of death due to the high rate at which our livestock died whenever they came to it for water. Instead of driving our stock to the dam we’d rather gather around it so no animal gets close to it because the catchment was filled with mud that trapped anything that stepped in it,” Nomonti explains.
The dam is now one of 15 in the province restored by the provincial department of rural development and agrarian reform (DRDAR).
Dredging and augmentation of stock dams is one of the commitments the DRDAR had made in the 2020/21 fiscal year as a response to water shortages, which farmers cited as a hindrance to their growth.
According to Sipho Mbunguzane of the Ndimakude Farmers’ Association in Port St Johns, their dam’s having been raised has cut down on the mortality rate of livestock. He explains that livestock had previously died from drowning and at times, they had fallen from the cliffs on their way to the only river that serves both human and animal for their water needs.
“The open area in the river is used by people…and animals like cattle and sheep are forced to manoeuvre their way down the cliff in order to access water.
“Many have died there, and farmers counted losses more than gains before this dam was augmented and dredged,” explains Mbunguzane.
Some still left to their own devices
Siviwe Tikana, who farms in the east coast resorts, counts himself fortunate to have boreholes and dams on his farming property, but understands fellow farmers’ pressing concerns about access to water.
“Without water we might as well close shop. It’s incredibly troublesome that as food producers of this country, we don’t have access to adequate water resources. Water pipes are being stolen, the infrastructure is outdated and municipalities don’t have the budgets to fix these issues.”
Meanwhile, the department of water and sanitation has called on all water users to use water sparingly and to report the vandalism of water infrastructure to law enforcement agencies.
“Furthermore, communities are urged to fix leakages in their households and to report other forms of leakages to their local municipalities,” Ratau says.
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