The latest issue of the South African Journal of Science reports the country is already feeling the sting of global climate change.
New research indicates SA is about 2% hotter and at least 6% drier now than during the 1970s.
“This change may not seem significant, but for South Africa, where already over 90% of the land is arid or semi-arid, there is little scope for comfort, as both the frequency and severity of droughts are likely to increase as a consequence of climate change,” the Journal says.
Research on the effects of drought in South Africa presented at last year`s Arid Zone Ecology Forum, addresses some of the ecological, economic and social consequences of drought in the country.
“Animals — including humans — have the option of moving away to evade drought. Humans have exploited this option historically, but in modern times this is often no longer feasible. Birds can disperse to avoid drought, but there is a cost: loss of territories and suppression of reproductive cycles.
“Plants, by contrast, do not have the advantage of mobility. Certain indigenous species are drought resistant, but at least two of South Africa`s important crops (maize and wheat) are vulnerable to climate change. Rain-fed species (unsurprisingly) are more vulnerable than irrigated species, but the sustainability of agricultural irrigation is questionable,” the Journal says.
“Irrigation in South Africa currently comprises about 65% of our water usage. Water demand is increasing, while supply, in the form of rainfall, is decreasing. Water demand is expected to exceed water supply by the year 2030, so drastic and immediate action is required. Water-management policies are necessary and water-conserving farming practices should be adopted. Farmers need to develop drought-coping mechanisms and longer-term research on the ecological, economic and social effects of drought should be a priority.”