EC Government must account for poor handling of EC drought crisis

Issued by Retief Odendaal, MPL
Shadow MEC for Rural Development and Agrarian Reform

The Democratic Alliance (DA) has demanded that both Eastern Cape Department of Rural Development and Agrarian Reform (DRDAR) and Co-operative Government and Traditional Affairs (COGTA) appear before SCOPA to account for their actions in the mishandling of the ongoing drought crisis.

See letter

A capable state would have put a co-ordinated, inter-departmental rapid response task team together. This would ensure that the necessary support is provided to those in crisis, to mitigate the worst impacts of the current drought, and make strategic interventions to augment water supplies to prevent future catastrophes.

This has not happened in the Eastern Cape. The province is still grappling with one of the most severe droughts on record, with the Sarah Baartman District Municipality being the worst affected.

Even though the Sarah Baartman District Municipality has declared a state of disaster, little to no assistance has been forthcoming from either COGTA or DRDAR to the municipalities or farmers in this region.

COGTA should be providing oversight and support to affected municipalities to ensure that drought mitigation projects are properly implemented. Unfortunately, they have failed dismally in this regard with devastating consequences for Eastern Cape residents.

Nelson Mandela Bay has lost R183 Million in disaster funding because of the municipality’s inability to spend this funding in the 2019/20 financial year. This is a major blow to the municipality, which is where the average dam levels are currently standing at just 21.64%.

In the Ndlambe Municipality, a tender bungle for a reverse osmosis plant has resulted in many residents having to rely on water tankers to provide water to households.

The Beyers Naude Municipality has also had severe water shortages over the last two years. Residents of the uMasizakhe in Graaff-Reinet have had no reticulated water for more than a year.

Farmers who have been decimated by the drought, especially those in the Sarah Baartman District Municipality, have also been left to their own devices, with no government support at all. In areas such as Aberdeen, Willowmore and Rietbron even boreholes started running dry this year.

In many instances the condition of the veld is so bad, farmers have had to significantly reduce their livestock numbers to prevent their animals dying of starvation. Some of these farmers may not financially survive this prolonged drought.

Despite this, DRDAR has made no financial support available. What makes this even more appalling is that the department has severely underspend its budget for the 2020/21 financial year, midyear.

This means the Department has the ability, and financial means, to assist farmers should they elect to do so.

This lack of co-ordinated response and support by these Eastern Cape Provincial Departments is exacerbated by the fact that the Disaster Management Centre in the province does not have a permanent head.

The ongoing drought crisis continues to decimate Eastern Cape communities.

The DA will do everything in its ability to ensure that Eastern Cape Departments account for their inaction in ensuring that they support communities during this time of need.