Environmental Ponderings – 21

Floods and Drought

Flood or Drought?

The recent floods are still fresh in our minds and we have started receiving messages from the authorities to save water. Many people’s first reaction is to say, “make up your mind, have we got too much water or too little water?”

Our Status

Sadly, it is not quite as simple as that. In the past, we had a (mostly) clear separation between “wet” and “dry” seasons. Climate change put paid to that and now there are many additional factors that affect the type of rainfall we receive, when we receive it, and the quantities that we receive. We also must not forget that South Africa is a water-scarce country. It ranks as one of the 30 driest countries in the world with an average rainfall of about 40% less than the annual world average rainfall.

Population and Water

We also have a problem with population settlement and water storage. The number of people globally is increasing rapidly, especially in Africa. We are also seeing a steady and growing number of people moving from rural to urban areas. We are rapidly running out of feasible sites for the location and operation of dams to provide these people with potable water.

El Niño/La Niňa

In drought conditions (usually triggered in Africa by the “El Niňo” climatic phenomenon) we suffer from a shortage of rainfall. This means our dams do not fill up or get replenished and we run short of potable water for our population. In flood and high rainfall conditions (usually triggered by the “La Niňa” climatic phenomenon), we experience disastrous flood impacts on our lives, families, infrastructure, and livelihoods..

Time Scale

The two phenomena can last from between 3 and 7 years but this can change. It means that storage of water has become a critical part of not only our survival, but the quality of our lives and our lifestyles.

Mist Belt

The Upper Highway area includes the commonly described “Mist Belt” which has a higher percentage of precipitation than many surrounding areas. We should be using that phenomenon to collect the water and store it in tanks for a variety of uses. You use it for basics such as watering the garden and washing the car. Or you could connect it to your toilets and use it to flush toilets, thus saving valuable potable (treated) water. Or you could go the whole hog and filter and treat the water to potable standards and reduce your reliance upon (expensive) municipal mains water.


Yes, I hear you say, but this all costs money which we don’t have at the moment. If you talk to your financial advisor, you will find that there are many different innovative and cheaper ways of funding water collection and storage systems (and, incidentally, solar power and geyser systems). All of these schemes and options will become more attractive as we see the cost of water and electricity rise rapidly in the coming years. More worryingly, the availability and reliability of permanent supplies are also becoming a serious problem.

Action or Inaction?

We have plenty of evidence to show that climate change has become an integral part of our lives. We need to recognise the threats and opportunities that exist and begin to act. Have you thought about the feasibility of water storage or solar energy on your property? If not, are you going to wait until the next flood or Stage 8 electricity load shedding and 13 hours of blackout per day, before you make any decisions?

Arend Hoogervorst is an environmental scientist with 40 years of experience in South Africa in environmental management and sustainable development in local and central government, commerce and industry and private practice.

© Arend Hoogervorst, 2022.