South Africa has been suffering from its worst drought since 1982 with more than 2,7 households hit by water shortages across the country, the government said.
The drought that intensified in provinces of Free State and KwaZulu-Natal started to impact on livelihoods and draining the economy, Lennox Mabaso, spokesperson for the department of local government in KwaZulu-Natal said.
"The dams are at an all-time low. This is an epic drought and government is doing the best it can. As you can imagine, it requires a lot of resources and its impacting everyone, rich and poor," Mabaso said.
KwaZulu-Natal and Free State provinces were declared as disaster areas by the ministry warning that almost 6,500 rural communities across four provinces have been facing water shortages.
South Africa’s capital Pretoria has already implemented water restrictions as a measure.
An official said on Wednesday that northern Mpumalanga and Limpopo provinces hit by the drought would be declared as disaster areas for agriculture in the coming days but a spokesperson for the Department of Water and Sanitation would not confirm this claim.
"The provinces of Limpopo and the North-West are currently under observation," Mlimandlela Ndamase, ministerial spokesperson for the Department of Water and Sanitation, said.
The government provided $26 million to KwaZulu-Natal in an attempt to mitigate the impact of the drought that is believed to have been caused by the El Nino weather pattern. It is expected that El Nino would impact other parts of southern Africa as well.
An economist, Wandile Sihlobo, said that summer crops and livestock farming might be hit hard by the drought and consumers were likely to see food prices elevated occasionally.
"The concern now is about the next crop. It's the optimum time to plant but its still too dry and with the failure earlier in the year, farmers are under further strain," Sihlobo said.
Meanwhile, South African coastal town Port Shepstone was hit by dwindling rainfall affecting residents badly. The residents said their drinking water contaminated with sea water as the drought increased the salt content of rivers, the local newspaper reported on Tuesday.
The citizens of Port Shepstone in KwaZulu-Natal province lined up for fresh water distributed by officials.
Mabaso confirmed that a part of the town’s water was contaminated but said the issue was exaggerated.
"It appears that sea water had encroached the dam that was close to the sea and the water has been contaminated, it affects one community in Port Shepstone and our scientists are working on it," Mabaso said.
Minister of Water and Sanitation Nomvula Mokonyane said earlier in the week that South Africa was drawing water from its neigbouring Lesotho to augment the resources of the country, especially in Gauteng, the economic center of the country.
"Engagements are underway to allow us to access water from the Zambezi via Zimbabwe to further guarantee supply in the northern parts of our country" Mokonyane said.
It was declared on Monday that Rand Water, the country’s main water supplier might face “water restrictions” in Gauteng province if there was no rainfall soon.
"People have always thought that South Africa is a water secure country. But people need to respect water and use it sparingly. The times have changed," Mabaso said.