Living with drought in South Africa: lessons learnt from the recent El Niño drought period

2017-06-06

By Marie-Ange Baudoin, Coleen Vogel, Kirsty Nortje, Myra Naik • 2017

 South Africa is prone to drought. The country recently experienced the combined effects of a severe drought and a strong El Niño event, which led to serious impacts on livelihood conditions and economic growth. By examining the State's response to drought over time, with a specific focus on responses to the current 2016 El Niño -related drought, we expose a number of ‘sticking points’ in the response to drought and the delayed action to reduce the risks to drought impacts. Complex and seemingly bureaucratic hurdles limiting action are shown to be cumbersome factors that impede and continue to frustrate effective drought response in the country. Such bureaucratic inability to enable swift and flexible responses resulted in many NGOs and civic actors stepping up to provide assistance. As demonstrated in this research, while there are response plans and key contact departments and strategies in South Africa, these have become mired down in officialdom. Some suggest the blame lies with the State itself, and its alleged poor drought risk governance that affect recovery after drought, especially in the agricultural sector. Ineffective responses are surprising given that drought is a familiar feature and given there have been several previous cases of successes in institutional response in the past.

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