Green Drought

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This and other public awareness campaigns are underway in our province. We are coming toward the end of summer when rains were expected to replenish the water supply. However, this year as in several previous years, rainfall has not been adequate to meet demand. From every report, it is clear that water supply has become a serious problem for government and for everyday people.

We’ve heard it referred to as a “Green Drought” which seems appropriate from what our eyes can see. In our neighborhood and throughout our city lawns are green, trees are fully leafed out, and there are plenty of beautiful flowers in bloom. How can it be that this is a drought then? Like mine, does your mental image of drought conjure up cracked earth, dust, and shades of brown and grey? Where we live, this drought doesn’t look like that which must be part of the challenge in getting people to take it seriously. It reminds me of the long-term water problems in beautiful and lush California where normalizing a conservation mindset has been a challenge to public leaders.

Water for people in KwaZulu-Natal province comes from rivers that originate in the mountains around us. Low rainfall has seen many of these rivers run low or dry. The severely depleted dams they feed cannot continue to be drawn down at the current rate. We had a glimpse of this reality while hiking in the mountains last month. When we reached our destination, a waterfall which should have been full at that time of year, it was a mere trickle.

The implications have been huge even if we have not experienced them yet at our own taps. Some areas along the coast are severely affected with little to no water flowing in their pipes. The government has hauled in water tankers to fill plastic cisterns or buckets for people. Sugarcane production, and all agriculture, is also significantly lower than normal. This not only affects the large commercial growers and small-scale growers, but farm laborers, mill workers, and their extended communities. In game reserves and on ranches, people have had to make tough decisions about how or whether to save wild animals and livestock.

It strikes me too, that the people least prepared to deal with drought are those who use the most water. I was at a very large and fancy mall one morning this week which had no water service. The reason wasn’t clear but it was easy to see what an inconvenience it was to food service counters and restaurants, not to mention sanitation staff. I felt especially sorry for the ladies staffing the bathrooms who had to deal with irritated shoppers encountering toilets that couldn’t flush and sinks without water for washing. Meanwhile people in rural areas haul what they can when they can, make do without, and simply bide their time. I wonder whether we will see resourcefulness or an outcry should the shortage begin to affect water service in upscale communities as predicted in the next few months.

I don’t have “drought images” to share. Perhaps it’s more telling that I have taken pictures of rain, noting its specialness when it has come. I took these in a grocery store recently during a heavy rain. People gathered round the open entrance in awe. The mood was jovial as people laughed watching others come running in from the parking lot. I commented to someone what a shame that it was falling so heavily and would not sink into the ground. He corrected me saying that this is just the kind of rain needed here, one that runs off into rivers that will fill reservoirs. Pity it was so centralized and short. Officials emphasize that it would take several weeks of sustained rainfall to change the trajectory.

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Another day we were home in the afternoon when a huge thunderstorm came through. We’d heard tales of frequent and dangerous hail storms here with hail the size of golf balls. This time it was only the size of marbles but it was the biggest I have ever seen! The sound on the roof was deafening and I was glad our car was in the garage. Simon and Elsa Ruth delighted in collecting and keeping the hail in the freezer for a few days.

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I’ll end with a favorite line from the Peter Mayer song, “Ocean Mary.” It reminds me about the wondrous water cycle at work every moment, everywhere on our planet.  We cannot control it but we can marvel at it and treasure the drops entrusted to us today.

“Some will say that lakes and wells
And even rain can cast a spell
And every water drop you ask
Tells a tale of oceans vast
So careful when you take a drink
There’s magic in the kitchen sink”

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4 thoughts on “Green Drought

  1. I cannot say often enough how graceful, insightful and genuine your writing is Amy. I feel like I am reading the best of National Geographic! Love seeing your joyful, earnest interest in the world around you Simon and Elsa Ruth! How does the lack of water influence you and everyone at your university Scott?

    “We do pray for rain and that same prayer doth remind us to be grateful for our water!” …a take on Shakespeare’s “Quality of Mercy” in Merchant of Venice

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