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After the Drought: aftermath and solutions

13 Jun 2016

Drought is a worldwide phenomenon and has been with us for eons. During the Pliocene Epoch the Earth experienced droughts that lasted thousands of years. In modern times most countries have experienced drought at one time or another.

Effects in South Africa

Currently struggling under the effects of a particularly strong El Nino which is impacting globally, South Africa is not unfamiliar to the problems of droughts. Worst affected at present are the white maize producers to the west of the country. Rainfall is variable under normal conditions – or what we consider to be normal – and rain-scarce periods are relatively common: 1964 to 1970, 1991 to 1995, 2002 to 2005. Dry periods that occur so frequently, leave little time for recovery in the wetter periods. In addition, high temperatures during droughts further deplete water reserves through evaporation. Knock on effects can be seen in not only crop failure, but increases in population migration to the cities.  

But the question that faces us, is do we need to suffer the consequences of drought quite as much as we currently do? And the short answer to that is no, we don’t. Technical ingenuity, common sense, education and responsibility are our keys to a better future in an increasingly waterless world. 

The harsh realities of drought

Economic factors:

  • Farmers face financial loss through destruction of crops or money having to be spent on new irrigation methods or drilling new wells. More money having to be spent on bringing in outside supplies of food and water.
  • Businesses that supply farming equipment lose money when drought damages crops or livestock.
  • Fire is more prevalent during drought and can destroy vast swathes of forest, affecting all wood industries. Boats and fishing industries are compromised by water sources drying up.
  • Hydroelectric power sources have to be bolstered by other sources costing both the company and customers more money.
  • The cost of food soars because it has to be sourced from further and further afield.
  • New and additional sources of water have to be researched and implemented at sometimes high cost.

Environmental factors:

  • Plants and animals suffer during a drought – their food supply shrinking and their habitat diminishing in size.
  • There is loss of both fish and wildlife.
  • Drought can cause wildlife migration or even extinction.
  • Loss of water in lakes, rivers, ponds and wetlands, leading to sometimes irreversible damage to the environment.
  • There is greater danger of devastating wildfires which destroy agricultural land, grassland and orchards. The results of these fires help to create the perfect setup for the ruinous action of wind erosion. 

Social factors:

  • Drought affects people’s health when water diminishes and becomes of poor quality.
  • Health is also affected by too much dust.
  • Conflicts can arise when there is water scarcity.
  • An increased number of wildfires affect people’s safety.
  • Migration from worst affected areas becomes problematic when large numbers of people seeking shelter and respite from famine and joblessness impact on other settled communities.

Solutions at hand 

In the times of plenty, we should always be preparing for drought. Here are just a few of the things we can do.

  • Satellite: By using satellite information and data collected on the ground, we can be proactive in the face of drought, reducing lengthy assessment time and vastly speeding up response. Satellites collect data such as soil moisture content, precipitation, vegetation health, etc. When monitored over a period of time, this information can be used to forecast crop and grassland conditions over a forthcoming season. Thus forewarned, response can be swift, bringing assistance as soon as possible to those who would otherwise be directly impacted.
  • Drip Irrigation: The beauty of drip irrigation is that it has proved plants don’t need the volume of water we have been pouring over them over the last few hundred years. They only need a few regular drips direct to the root system. Each plant gets exactly the right amount of water that it needs in the right location. The savings on water, costs and on the devastating effects of drought, is enormous.
  • Ocean desalination: We have more water on this planet than we know what to do with – and yet not a drop to drink. Using the sea to solve our water problems is obvious and vital. The initial expense will return great value in the future. To leave this option unexplored in the hope that it will rain next season, is foolhardy. In South Africa we have no less than 3 long coastlines – and we should be taking advantage of this as soon as possible.
  • Responsibility: We can develop better storage facilities. Explore more water-efficient waste management technologies. Take better household care such as sweeping patios and driveways, instead of hosing them down, and installing a pre-paid water meter to monitor use on taps, toilets, showers and sprinklers. Motivate Government action with regard to fixing numerous leaking pipes across the country. Training for better management of ground water.  

The Israeli factor

Israel, the inventor of the drip irrigation system, is leading the world in intelligent water supply management. Already proficient in the preservation and judicious use of natural water resources, they have developed extremely efficient recycling processes and desalination plants along their Mediterranean coastline.

  • More than 85% of domestic wastewater is recycled for agricultural purposes.
  • Four major desalination plants now make salt water from the Mediterranean drinkable.
  • Drip irrigation has cut water use by half and 90% of Israeli farmers use this method.  

The future of water

Netafim developed the world’s first dripper and is globally active today. Our vision is to find solutions through innovation and necessity. We are continually producing new ideas and improved technology to meet the challenges of humanity, food and water. We are perfectly positioned to help our farmers prepare for the next water shortage. We don’t believe that the great suffering of drought and its aftermath is a necessary evil. Technology is our saviour – and a great deal of that is right here and already with us.  

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