The rains have returned and the wildlife is flourishing. Is this respite period going to fully relieve us of the dreadful droughts or is this just enough for false hope?
Less than average rainfall in 2015 and 2016 lead to us seeing one of the worst drought’s in recent history in South Africa. South Africa received the lowest rainfall between January and December 2015 since the recording of rainfall began in 1904. According to the South African Weather Service, since 1904, rainfall in all nine provinces has averaged 608 mm per year, while in 2015 South Africa received only an average of 403 mm (66% of the annual average). Previously, the lowest rainfall received in a year was in 1945 when South Africa received 437 mm (72%).
Aid Initiatives assist a drought-stricken South Africa
The low rainfall figures continued into 2016 and the cumulative effects really began to take their toll in Winter 2016 when the South African farming community reached its lowest point. Crops and animals were taking the brunt of the national disaster. Three South African provinces – Free State, North West and Mpumalanga – normally account for more than 80% of the country’s maize / corn production. Maize is a major dietary staple for the majority of the population. These provinces were 3 out of the 5 declared as disaster zones for agriculture by the Government.
The situation was dire and lead to aid initiatives on a national and international scale. A water drop initiative set up by one of SA’s largest radio stations saw 2 million litres of bottled water delivered to the arid North West province. Farmers came together to donate feed for livestock owned by those worst affected.
Meteorologists were attributing the problem to El Niño. El Niño, a weather phenomenon believed to have been intensified by climate change, brings record high temperatures and low rainfalls across much of the continent. Whatever the cause, a drought-stricken South Africa just wanted to see an end to the struggle.
The drought took its toll on wildlife
Trips to Kruger National Park with Afri-Campus students became tainted with an overwhelming sadness. Skeletal hippos and buffalo became the ‘norm’. The remains of those that had succumbed to the drought scattered the landscape. The roads North of Satara Camp were barren and desolate. The herbivores appeared to be moving South and with them, the carnivores followed. If our aim was to tick off the ‘Big Five’ we too had to head South. Hippos over-crowded the last of the water holes. The remaining hippos appeared battered, scarred and bloodied as territorial battles ensued. A despairing and depressing sight.
A new year brings new hope
However, as the first month of 2017 draws to a close, we have been treated to the welcome sight of returning rains. Parts of the country are even experiencing flooding! The local dam, Blyderivierpoort, is overflowing for the first time in 2 years. The grass is green, luscious and long. The leaves on the trees are bursting with colour. Is this the beginning of the end of the drought? Or just marginal relief?
Meteorological reports about the longevity of this respite period differ on a day to day basis. One thing is for sure, we are in a much better place than this time in 2016. This time last year, bottled water was being delivered by the ton-load to those in desperate need. This year, we are able to witness the familiar picture of Impala fawns lying almost hidden in a bed of abundant, green grass. No longer exposed on desolate soils.
A recent day trip to Kruger was full of the most welcomed sights. The roads between Phalaborwa Gate and Olifants Camp look fantastic. There is a sea of rich and succulent grass awaiting the return of the animals from the South. They will not be returning in the same numbers that they left in, especially the buffalo and hippo, but this after all is the essence of a natural cycle. Those returning North will be the strongest, the fittest, the most resilient and the winners in this race for the survival of the fittest.
Long may the rains last.