The recent drought in the Western Cape, which Cape Town is expected to recover from over the next several years, left major dams such as the Theewaterskloof Dam nearly bone-dry. The rains over the past winter, which were heavier than they had been in recent years, resulted in dams slowly being replenished and saved the city from its taps being turned off.
New research conducted by the University of Cape Town recently found that a drought can be expected every 15 years in the province, instead of every 50 years as previously predicted.
This finding forms part of the African Climate and Development Initiative (ACDI), and quantifies the long-term effects of human impact on global warming. It not only aims to reduce the future risk of the effects of global warming, but also ensure that the on-the-ground responses reduce the harmful impact of humans on the environment.
According to Professor Mark New, the co-leader of the international research team, climate change poses many serious development problems for Africa. “For climate adaptation, African countries are among the most vulnerable to climate change and variability,” he said.
The drought in the Western Cape reached its peak between 2015 and 2017, and was the worst drought the region had experienced in over a century.
New added that the recent droughts in Africa’s south serve as a stark reminder of just how susceptible the region is to climate change.
“This cutting-edge, joint-attribution research enables us to move from just looking at weather risk to a more integrated understanding of how changing weather risk propagates into impacts on the ground. This also provides information on how we might change our on-the-ground responses to minimise the impacts,” he said. “Both the frequency and severity of climate-induced disasters are changing, often for the worse. For the Western Cape, the extent, duration and seasonal distribution of rainfall seem to be changing. Along with higher temperature levels and more evaporation, the implications of drought and climate change for river flows and long-term assurance of water supply are potentially serious.”
He is also of the belief that the Western Cape must begin getting used to a warmer and drier climate as a result of global warming.
“In theory, the Western Cape’s water resource system should be reliable 49 out of every 50 years, but its designers did not completely consider the changing climate risk profiles. This is potentially an adaptation blind spot,” New said.