Drought: December 2015 was the driest December in South Africa in 15 years

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Source: The Citizen

The recent intermittent rains are raising hopes in parts of South Africa as dam levels continue to stabilise, but more rain is needed as the dams are far from full, according to the department of water and sanitation. Rainfall is also needed over vast expanses of agricultural land fed by the dams. A report released by the National Disaster Management Committee on Monday indicated that Sterkfontein Dam on the borders of KwaZulu-Natal and Free State is 88% full.


The dam is largely used as a reserve for Vaal Dam in Gauteng in case of an emergency. Gariep Dam, the biggest in the country, is almost half-full at 49% while Bloemhof Dam in North West is dangerously low at 21.1%. “The country is still benefiting from the rain that fell earlier in January, as well as a few isolated rainfalls observed last week,” the report stated.


Using state-of-the-art earth observation technologies, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) recently revealed the extent and severity of the drought affecting six of the nine provinces. Free State and North West provinces are worst affected. “December 2015 has been recorded as the driest December in South Africa in 15 years,” said CSIR remote sensing specialist Moses Cho.


Cho used remote sensing technologies that reveal an index of vegetation greenness to indicate the extent and magnitude of the drought in South Africa. The index shows a 15-year average of vegetation greenness for the North West, Gauteng, Free State, Limpopo, Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal provinces, revealing a severe decrease in vegetation greenness in December 2015.


“The satellite imagery derived shows that there has been an up to 60% decrease in vegetation greenness in December 2015 in some parts of the Free State and North West,” said Cho. In September last year, CSIR principal researcher professor Francois Engelbrecht revealed in a study that 2015 may well be the warmest year yet recorded in Africa. This was partially due to climate change as well as the El Nino cycle in the Pacific Ocean.


Temperatures over subtropical southern Africa have risen at more than twice the global rate over the past five decades.

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