Even though the earth is 70% covered by water, only 3% of it is precious freshwater. Freshwater is essential for all living beings and the absence of rain and water storage is critically dangerous. Droughts are a slow and lengthy type of disaster. This is what is happening in South Africa. Cape Town is currently in the public eye because of the recent official announcement by the Cape Town City Council that all freshwater will run out on April 12th that has now been delayed until August 27. **Although that date has been pushed back to August, Cape Town still under pressure to solve this imminent crisis.
Threat for animals and humans
Without water, communities and their animals are prone to disease, famine, wildfires, malnutrition, mass migration, social unrest and even conflict. The impact of a drought on animals is particularly impactful for FOUR PAWS. Pet owners must ensure that there must be enough water for their animals at home. Farms must decide how they can provide clean water to animals or else diseases and malnutrition could impact their animals and thus their livelihoods. Wildlife, that is now abundant, could have conflict with various communities for access to water. The eventual reduction of wildlife because of the lack of food and water sources could disrupt the larger ecosystem. Plus, the risks to individual welfare of wild animals is almost immeasurable.
The Disaster Relief Unit at FOUR PAWS International is working with our colleagues at FOUR PAWS South Africa in Cape Town to develop a strategic plan for disaster relief work in the region for droughts and other kind of disasters. The City and all the citizens have pulled together to conserve as much water as they can, limiting water usage to only 50 liters (about 13 US gallons) per person per household per day. The day the water runs out is being called, “Day Zero” when all the taps will run dry.
The assessment of any disasters at FOUR PAWS means gathering background information about the situation, understanding the governmental structures including emergency management, and finding the appropriate partners to provide services to the communities and their animals when the situation becomes critical. All the planning and work needs to be in place before a disaster occurs to be able to have a smooth and effective process of providing support to the communities that have the highest need and ability to recover. A plan that is adaptive to changing circumstances is the key to a successful mission. I follow the idea that ‘Failing to plan is planning to fail’ philosophy. The hope is that this drought will end soon for Cape Town.
While I discuss Cape Town, there are many other cities currently facing critical water shortages due to drought conditions, namely London, Jakarta, Istanbul, Tokyo, Beijing, Moscow, Sao Paolo, Mexico City, Bangalore, Cairo and Miami. Drought is a catastrophic type of disaster because not only do all living things need water to survive but a lack of clean water could lead to other health and societal breakdowns as described above.
In the region around Cape Town, the major export is apples and grapes for the wine/produce industry and due to the drought, it has already been estimated the costs of wine and crops from the area will increase due to the shortage of crop production from the lack of water. While there is no major animal farming in this region, other part parts of South Africa are also in drought and the country boasts a national cattle herd of approximately 14 million head of cattle in 2016.
"During our time in Cape Town the indications of drought are present everywhere and all the time: We witnessed people how they went to small springs in the mountains to collect water in big containers. In the townships, people have to wait for hours to receive a little bit of water for their families."
Over the course of our assessment here in Cape Town, the effects of drought are front and center. I witnessed public water sources busy with people collecting water in large containers to bring home for cleaning and for sanitary usage. Sometimes there are long queues for hours of people just waiting to collect a little water in the outlying townships and walking along busy roads with heavy loads. I‘ve heard stories from locals citizens of fewer wild animals like baboons seen in the area as they leave in search of drinkable water. Fishermen are all to easily fishing at the Theewaterkloof dam when the water level at the reservoir has decreased to less than 10% of capacity. (The overfishing of the reservoir was actually recommended by the local authorities so that the stocked fish do not die and go to waste). There also seems to already be a slow reduction of birdlife and other animals as they leave the region for greener habitat.
The local government is working carefully with the community in conserving water resources and rationing water to keep Day Zero from becoming a reality. There is a common hope in Cape Town that it will rain in June this year (Winter in South Africa). FOUR PAWS have developed a plan to address the immediate food, water, temporary sheltering, possible relocation and veterinary support with local government, partners and communities to ensure the safety of all lives, including the animals.
FOUR PAWS helps on the ground
You as a supporter, can help animals in South Africa and other the drought stricken communities by sharing the stories of FOUR PAWS efforts to reduce the dangers of drought for communities and animals. Here at home, you can also help by knowing YOUR potential conserving water in your own house, and making sure your local government representatives are aware of your concerns about water conservation for communities and animals. We may not be able to control the weather but we as a community can take steps on how I individually can prepare myself, my family and my animals. It is my hope that one day, every drought-vulnerable community has a preparedness plan in place that saves lives, both human and animal.