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#5facts: Water in South Africa

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While residents in South Africa’s economic capital of Johannesburg seek shelter from current rains, Cape Town residents are being pressured to further reduce their water consumption.

Cape Town is currently trying to stave off “Day Zero”, when the taps run dry and residents will be forced to queue for water rations.

How many people have access to water in South Africa? How dry is the country? And when does low rainfall become a drought? Here are 5 facts on water in South Africa.

1. 88% of SA households have access to water

Statistics South Africa’s 2016 General Household Survey estimates 88.8% of South African households had access to piped water, compared to 81.2% in 1996.

Households in the Western Cape are most likely to have access to piped water, while those in Limpopo and the Eastern Cape are the least likely to have access to piped water.

2. Piped water in less than 50% of SA homes

While close to 90% of South African households can access piped water on estimate, most of these households don't have water running directly into their homes.

Less than half (46.4%) of South African households are estimated to have water piped in their homes, 26.8% have access to water on their property while 13.3% need to share a communal tap.

3. South Africa has less water per person than Botswana & Namibia

United Nations’ Aquastats data shows that South Africa has more renewable freshwater resources than Botswana and Namibia. In 2013, it had a total of 44.8 billion m³ of water available - a quarter of the capacity of the Kariba, Africa’s largest dam.

But these resources are stretched thin when population size is taken into account.

For every person in South Africa, the country had 822.2 m³ of freshwater available at last count - compared to 1,061 m³ per resident of Botswana.

In Namibia, each resident theoretically has access to 2,505 m³ of water. This is about the volume of an Olympic size swimming pool.

In South Africa, most freshwater is used for agricultural purposes, followed by domestic purposes and then industry.

4. South Africa is the 39th ‘driest’ country in the world

The average rainfall a country receives in a year is one way to measure how dry a country is.

Data from the Food and Agriculture Organisation’s Aquastat database provides comparable figures for 182 countries around the world.

It is often reported that South Africa is the 30th driest country in the world. But the latest figures show that South Africa had annual rainfall of 495 mm in 2014, moving it slightly down the rankings to 39th position.

Egypt (51 mm), Libya (56 mm) and Saudi Arabia (59 mm) had the lowest annual rainfall in 2014.

5. Just 66% of average annual rainfall in 2015

There are a number of ways of defining a drought. The South African Weather Service considers an area to be experiencing a meteorological drought when it receives less than 75% of its normal rainfall.

South Africa received its lowest rainfall between January and December 2015 since the national recording of rainfall began in 1904.

Since 1904, rainfall in all nine provinces has averaged 608 mm per year, while South Africa received only an average of 403 mm (66% of the annual average) in 2015. Previously, the lowest rainfall received in a year was in 1945, when South Africa received 437 mm (72%).

READ: So is drought simply defined by a lack of rainfall?

Edited by Kate Wilkinson


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