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Prepare Belize’s Drought Plan – Let’s not wait for Day Zero Print E-mail
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Written by By Rudolph Williams   
Thursday, 15 February 2018 00:00

Water Scarcity and Drought are synonymous.  A drought is defined as a period of below-average precipitation in a given region, resulting in prolonged shortages in the water supply, whether atmospheric, surface water or ground water.  There are four main types of Drought; meteorological, hydrological, agricultural, and socioeconomic, however today the term drought is applied to many other scenarios that are not related to water.  Drought is currently occurring around the world in nations like Ethiopia, Eritrea, Afghanistan, China, California, India, Morocco, Pakistan, and South Africa, among others.

South Africa, the 30th driest country in the world is experiencing a three year drought.  An 80-year old Capetonian claims that this drought is the worst he has ever experienced.  It is affecting a number of provinces and putting the City of Cape Town in the particularly precarious position of effecting water restrictions. African lore includes “cattle-killing droughts” that happen every now and then, “goat-killing droughts” that happen every decade or so (goats, being more sturdy than cows), and “man-killing droughts” that happen once in a generation. The residents of Cape Town could care less about the hydrological classification of the drought.  A hydrological drought is the most severe drought that a region can experience. In South Africa, during the last five years there has been a 30% lower than normal rainfall, (meteorological drought) over the subcatchments that supply water to their storage dams.  A South African Parliamentarian reported to their National Assembly that ‘…drought has severely affected the country’s agricultural productivity capacity (Agricultural drought) and thus affecting negatively our Gross Domestic Product” (Socioeconomic drought). The Department of Water and Sanitation and the Cape Town City Council indicated that dams are now at 25.9% of their storage capacity.  The useable water in the dams is less 10% of the dam level.  Surface water inflows and groundwater releases are severely reduced if not interrupted (Hydrological drought).  As previously stated the Capetonians could care less about what type of drought is occurring.  Their water supply has been reduced from 23 gallons per day per person 6 months ago to 13 gallons today. The authorities are warning that there is a likelihood that by May 11, 2018 - Day Zero, Cape Town may run out of water.

The crisis is linked to the usual suspects including growing population and urbanization, ENSO (El Niño Southern Oscillation), and climate change impacts.  South Africa is one of the nations that has put water management at the highest position within their governmental system.  The management of water and sanitation is that of a Minister with such singular responsibility.  That is, she focuses only on water and sanitation.  South Africa has one of the world’s best water management institutions, comprehensive water policies and strategies, a fully staffed Water Department and extensive real time water monitoring network, yet Capetonians finds themselves facing Day Zero – the day when there may be no water.  A situation that is outside the direct control of the water resources managers.

Whilst we believe that drought impacts are limited to raw water for potable water supplies, livestock and crop water there are other not so obvious impacts.  Droughts mean fewer and smaller floods and less water discharge from rivers into the sea, resulting in negative impacts on the marine ecosystems.  The rivers deliver nutrients to the marine environments, nutrients that phytoplankton depend on.  Phytoplankton are a source of food for almost all marine ecosystems.  In Belize our marine environment underpins two major economic sectors – fisheries and tourism.  Our great defender the world’s second largest barrier reef may be at risk.

In Belize, water resources management is currently the responsibility of the Prime Minister and his Minister of State, and rightly so, Water is Life and is too important to have any lower status.   However we cannot boast of a fully staffed National Hydrological Service, extensive real time water monitoring networks, nor any National Water Plan, much less a Drought Plan.  The National Meteorological Service produces drought indices that forecast the likelihood and severity of drought episodes.  Belize is not immune, 2011 and 2015 are only previews of things to come. Let’s be prepared, our responses to the Meteorological Service’s drought alerts, watches and warnings is the content of a Drought Plan.  God forbid we ever have to deal with our own Day Zero, our response may be similar to that of the recent tsunami warning.  Note that Day Zero may be at the national or community level.

The achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 6, Target 6.4 will ensure sustainable withdrawals and supply of freshwater to address water scarcity, and substantially reduce the number of people suffering from water scarcity.  Working collectively with our local water stakeholders, neighbors and regional partners toward the achievement of SDG 6 we may be able to prepare a comprehensive National Drought Plan that contain specific strategies and responses to Drought.  We have time, Let’s Get It On !!!