When a drought was last declared in 2013, the urbanites among the 500,000 or so residents of Greater Gaborone blithely went on with their lives, while their rural contemporaries clung onto government assistance as their economies collapsed. As another drought looms this year, the drying up of Gaborone Dam and the tenuous counter-measures mirror the desperation in the fields. Mmegi Staff Writer, MBONGENI MGUNI, reports on crises that have bridged the urban/rural divide
In July 2013, government declared a drought, following a 22-day nationwide assessment that found that while a high area of crops had been planted, a long dry spell had caused general failure. Within the next two months, the two teams annually dispatched by the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development will again traverse the country, but this time it appears the exercise could be academic.
In the North East District, 872 farmers ploughed a total of 3,543.8 hectares of land in 2014, being a fraction of the 17,000 hectares of land from 60,300 farmers in 2013.
The figures are echoed countrywide, particularly in the drier South, where inadequate rains, worsened by hot temperatures have dented the produce farmers were hoping to reap in the coming months.
A recent survey by Mmegi in Kweneng and parts of the South East district also suggests low areas planted and crops under stress.
“The situation this year is most dismal. For example we have only been able to plough half of the usual hectorage,“ Dikwididi farmer Idoh Dintwe told Mmegi.
“First there was the issue of very poor rains. Not only has there been little rain, but it also came late, thus delaying many farmers from ploughing.” The declaration of a drought in 2013 triggered a rush of state-funded interventions costing a collective P217.5 million.
Government provided a 35 percent drought relief subsidy on selected livestock feeds and supplements for certain areas, supplied second meals for primary schools and double ration coverage for health facilities in hard hit areas.
In addition, the destitute, vulnerable groups, lactating and expectant mothers, as well as children under five were especially insulated from the effects of the drought through various packages. The Ipelegeng quota was also increased at districts to absorb workers coming from the failed agriculture sector, while food storage facilities were boosted.
While the 2013 drought meant economic collapse for agrarian communities around the country, the urban residents of Greater Gaborone were largely insulated as their economy is based largely on non-agricultural employment.
However, this year, the urbanites of Greater Gaborone have a crisis of their own in the failure of the 141.4 million cubic metre Gaborone Dam and the tenuous stop-gap measures initiated to ensure supply.
The 51-year-old dam was last full in 2001 and while it generally has been sliding since, the failure was still the first in its history, having previously reached its lowest point in December 2005 at 16 percent.
The sporadic rains this season only raised the dam level from 4.6 to 5.1 percent early in January, before a heatwave and subsequent hot temperatures dropped the waters to about the current four percent.
The failure of a dam that previously supplied 67 percent of the Greater Gaborone’s daily consumption of 125 million litres per day, has left residents dependent on the 360 kilometre North-South Carrier, which brings 60 million litres a day from Letsibogo Dam.
Bokaa Dam in Kgatleng provides 24 million litres per day, Molatedi Dam in South Africa another nine million, while Nnywane on the hilly outskirts of Lobatse provides the border town with about 2.4 million.
Within days, Minerals, Energy and Water Resources minister, Kitso Mokaila is expected to brief Parliament on several initiatives that collectively will ensure supply to the country’s most economically active area.
Part of the plans include the finalisation of the 300 kilometre North-South Carrier 2 from the 400 million cubic metre Dikgatlhong Dam to Greater Gaborone as well as up to 41 million litres per day from boreholes in Ramotswa and Masama.
“We have short, medium and long term plans for water supply in the Greater Gaborone area,” explains Mokaila in an interview.
The short-term plans include the addition of boreholes at Masama, fortification of a troublesome 26 kilometre stretch on the North-South Carrier and the rehabilitation of contaminated boreholes in Ramotswa.
In the medium term, a pump station will be installed at Makoro to boost water flow from Letsibogo Dam to about 90 million litres per annum, as well as the establishment of more boreholes on the Masama wellfields.
The North-South Carrier 2 falls under the long-term plan and construction is expected to start next January and end in March 2020.
Mokaila expects that while water demand will grow within those years, the various projects will be more than enough and even leave an excess.
Residents of Greater Gaborone will also be hoping Gaborone Dam recovers within that period and once again assumes the central role it has played in slightly over half a century.