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Cape Town’s Drought

February 13, 2018

By Paul Homewood




The drought in South Africa has been hitting the headlines lately, with the climate change bogeyman being wheeled out, as in this Reuters report today:

Running water in the port city of 4 million has been affected by a wider pattern of climate change seen around the country including the Western Cape, where Cape Town is located, the Northern Cape and Eastern Cape provinces.

Supplies have yet to recover from an El Nino-triggered drought that began two years ago and is now raising the risk of a shortage that could hit industrial and agricultural output.

Recent years have been littered with the same scare stories.

We all no doubt recall Tim Flannery’s warnings of permanent drought in Australia just a few years ago. Then came Joe Romm making the same claims about the US South West, not to mention Jerry Brown with California.

Nature usually has a habit of proving these charlatans wrong.


But what is the real truth in South Africa?

Tom Winnifrith has been looking into the situation:


Channel 4 reporter Lindsey Hilsum could not contain her excitement as she reported on the drought hitting Cape Town. There were a number of factors to blame but Climate Change was repeated many times. Her conclusion was clear, Governments across the world must not wait for climate change to hit them as it had hit the Cape as that would be too late, they must act now. Hmm. Fake news alert! We know Channel 4 prefers pious virtue signalling to hard data analysis but this was extreme.
As it happens Lindsey’s report was filmed earlier in the week and was not live. That was a pity as on Friday it rained in Cape Town and more rain is forecast today. But that is an aside.
First up we might look at how dry the Cape is in historical terms. Luckily we have data from three weather stations in the Cape (Vrugbaar, Rustfontein and Nuweberg) c/o the South African Weather Service (SAWS) and the Department of Water & Sanitation (DWS). Drought conditions cannot be created in just one year so – accepting that 2017 was very dry( the driest since 1933) – it is better to look at four year trailing trends and if we do that we see that the current dry spell is a bit wetter than that ending 2005, is the same as that ending in 1975 and only marginally drier than that ending in 1935, before all those cars and coal fired power stations caused all this global warming.

So why is the Cape only running out of water now? The next set of data ignored by Lindsey is population. Now there is a caveat here in that not all folks use the same amount of water. The blacks in the shanty towns do not have baths and showers so use far less than other folks and the growth in the population of Cape Town is in part, but only in part, down to shanty towns. So what was the population at the height of previous dry spells? I cannot find a 1935 number but in 1946 it was 383,000 having trebled since the turn of the century. By 1973 it was 1.2 million rising ro 2.9 million by 2005 and today it is 3.8 million. In other words demand for water has rocketed.
There is a third factor Lindsey ignored completely – leakage. The infrastructure of water supply in South Africa was put in place by the evil Britishers as part of our Colonial oppression. As all kids are taught today, the Empire was a force for evil and one of the way that we oppressed the poor folks of South Africa was by building a world class water supply system, Christ we were bastards. I feel so fecking guilty. And to show what real bastards we were we built a similar system at the same time back home in Blighty.
Politicians being politicians they the used water rates as another source of revenue and failed for decades to reinvest the proceeds in maintaining the water supply system. Thus by the 1980s leakage rates in both countries were alarming and rising. In the UK the wicked and evil Tories privatised the industry, part of which involved forcing the companies to spend set amounts on repairs and maintenance each year, amounts linked to profits. Guess what? Leakage rates in the UK have fallen by a third to just above 20% and are still falling! That bitch Thatcher and her privatisations she has a lot to answer for.
In South Africa they have been spared the evil Tories and their dastardly schemes and thus water supply is still in the benevolent hands of the state. Thus capital spend has been insufficient to stop leakage rates rising and they are now 35% and still heading North. So more than 1 in three gallons taken from the reservoirs of the Cape never makes it to a tap.
But Lindsey Hilsum and her colleagues at Channel 4 Fake News do not care about real data. This drought is largely down to climate change and Governments need to prepare for that or they will suffer as the Cape is suffering now. It is that simple in the post fact fake news world of Channel 4.


The rainfall data he refers to came from Dr Piotr Wolski, a researcher with the University of Cape Town’s Climate System Analysis Group. He wrote an account for News24 in South Africa, which can be read here.





As both Winnifrith and Wolski point out, the 4-year totals are not unprecedented.


Why 4 years? Isn’t this just cherry picking?  Well, the South Africa Weather Service itself made a point of analysing 4 and 6-year totals, when it published its own report on the drought in 2016:


The longest period of consecutive years where the annual total rainfall was below the period average of 608 mm per annum, was the 6 years starting in 1944. If an annual average is calculated for this 6-year period, it is 544 mm.


The next longest period where the annual total rainfall was below the period average of 608 mm per annum, were 2 periods of 4 consecutive years each.

The first period started in 1930 and the second period started in 2012.


The annual average rainfall per annum for the 4 years 1930 – 1933 is 519 mm. The annual average rainfall per annum for the 4 years 2012 – 2015 is 544 mm.

Although the annual total rainfall for South Africa for the 12 months Jan – Dec 2015, was the lowest annual total since 1904, the 4-year period 1930 – 1933 might still be the driest continuous period experienced in South Africa.—saws

Certainly, as far as hydrological droughts go, a multi-year one is always much more severe.


I have obtained the up to date numbers from the SAWS. These reveal that rainfall in 2016 and 2017 was bang on the long term average.

In other words, 1930 to 1933 remains by a long way the driest 4-year period. And 1944 to 1949 the driest 6-year one.




There is one more factor we need to take into account before we blame everything on climate change – El Nino.

As Dr Mathieu Rouault of the University of Cape Town explains, a major cause of the latest drought has been El Nino. He says ““8 out of 10 of the worst droughts in the past 100 years happened during El Niño”

Given the record El Nino of 2015/16 that we have just experienced, it is little wonder that Cape Town is in the middle of a severe drought. (Needless to say, he also blames climate change!).

Despite the record dry year of 2015, the above chart offers no evidence of a long term decline in South African rainfall.

But I doubt you will hear that on Channel 4 News.

  1. John Palmer permalink
    February 13, 2018 8:45 pm

    PH for an OBE for services to promote “truth and clarity in MSM “journalism” (an oxymoron if ever there was)
    Sorry – must stop nicking my colleague’s spliffs!!
    Sarc off.

  2. Jack Broughton permalink
    February 13, 2018 8:57 pm

    Climate Change aka Global Warming is used as a convenience by governments to excuse faults and squander money: the world’s press are fully complicit in this. This superb analysis of the facts is what is needed, and should be reported, but who listens, apart from those who already know that the facts are being twisted and lies spun?

  3. February 13, 2018 9:47 pm

    Channel 4 is probably worse than the BBC for blaming as many problems as they can find on “climate change”. All the main Channel 4 news presenters are fully indoctrinated.

  4. John of Cloverdale WA permalink
    February 14, 2018 12:30 am

    “They (climate scientists) came out of the grant-hungry fringe of semi-science to infect the heart of the mass media, where a whole generation of commentators taught each to other to speak and write a hyperbolic doom-language (“unprecedented”, “irreversible”, etc) which you might have thought was sure to doom them in their turn. After all, nobody with an intact pair of ears really listens for long to anyone who talks about “the planet” or “carbon” or “climate denial” or “the science”. But for now — and it could be a long now — the advocates of drastic action are still armed with a theory that no fact doesn’t fit. The theory has always been manifestly unfalsifiable, but there are few science pundits in the mass media who could tell Karl Popper from Mary Poppins. More startling than their ignorance, however, is their defiance of logic. You can just about see how a bunch of grant-dependent climate scientists might go on saying that there was never a Medieval Warm Period even after it has been pointed out to them that any old corpse dug up from the permafrost could never have been buried in it. But how can a bunch of supposedly enlightened writers go on saying that? Their answer, if pressed, is usually to say that the question is too elementary to be considered.”
    Clive James, AO, CBE, FRSL, and ironically, an honorary doctorate from the University of East Anglia, the home of the Climate Research Unit.

  5. February 14, 2018 12:54 am

    Reblogged this on WeatherAction News and commented:
    I’d be wary of the floods likely to follow a period of dought.

  6. February 14, 2018 1:00 am

    Rainfall varable but basically unchanged. No problem.
    A naturally dry region with major population growth, a BIG problem.
    No different than southern California.

  7. February 14, 2018 3:50 am

    It seems to me that the Capetown drought of 1926-1931 may have been of similar severity to the present drought. However i have had difficulty getting hold of complete data since 1998. The record at the international Airport (D F Malan) has many months with incomplete or missing data.

  8. February 14, 2018 5:57 am

    I live in SA. Politicians have been so busy lining their own pockets, for years now. Many municipalities are bankrupt. Infrastructure is falling apart. The population is growing at an alarming rate and there is an influx of immigrants from all over Africa, putting a lot of stress on recourses here.
    The previous government used to do thirty years planning ahead with disaster management in place for exactly this type of scenario. There was a warning in 2008 that this was going to happen, but nothing was done about it. Politicians were too busy stalling necessary projects to syphon money to places where their family and cronies could benefit from it.
    I hope this is a wake up call for them, but I doubt it. Soothe the masses with the nonsense story of global warming.
    We had a minister walking alongside a riverside where people’s shacks were washed away and she said it was due to global warming.It was broadcast on tv!!No mention was made that they built on a floodplain!

  9. Athelstan permalink
    February 14, 2018 10:50 am

    See how much distance there is to travel.

    Southern Rhodesia, had some of the best sanitation, water supply and distribution networks on the whole continent – those dastardly Brits, helping to make Africans live better healthier lives eh?

    Well……. “autonomy, freedom, kill the colonials”……… the left in the UK scweemed for, clamouring vacuum heads. the UK lefties, they GOT It and now we have to send more lefties into Africa to exploit rescue – the victims ref OXFAM.

    Aye good water supply, on their own, the Africans soon put a stop to that, thank Mugabe and ZANU.

    ANC nealy – getting there.

  10. February 14, 2018 10:58 am

    I disagree on one point with you, Paul. The water infrastructure wasn’t put in place mainly by the British. Most dams and infrastructure were developed by the Apartheid Regime since 1948.

  11. dearieme permalink
    February 14, 2018 11:20 am

    I’ve always wondered about leakage figures, especially for Britain where water meters were rare until fairly recently. How did they know how much water leaked? By what estimation/guessing/extrapolating/hand-waving technique did they know?

    Anyway, Capetown; those population figures, eh? Has the Guardian yet started bleating that May, or Literally Hitler Trump, should throw open the borders to “drought refugees”? My own feelings is that Germany and Sweden would be better refuges for them.

    • dave permalink
      February 14, 2018 1:18 pm

      “How did they know…?”

      Well, the water companies never claimed to know exactly. But there are ways to estimate, and the effectiveness of this depends on how hard one tries.

      The basic idea is to compare the water-volume put in (which is known accurately) to the water-volume used by the consumer. But this latter is never known accurately – if only because about a quarter of leakage happens in the pipes of the consumer himself. One technique is to examine the night flow. If nobody is drawing water at 2 A.M. any input must be waste! But there are complications; for example, leakage is not constant but depends on pressure in the system.

      Another technique is to look closely at actual use. The point about water meters is obvious. Companies survey samples of customers in detail, and infer the usage of the population.

      So far as I can make out, the measurements of the companies suffice to show changes in leakage better than absolute levels.

      There is a concept called SELL, which stands for Sustainable Economic Level of Leakage.
      This is the amount of leakage which it is sensible to ignore. Of course, if the level set does not take account of the possibility of the whole system being insufficient in some year, this is a recipe for eventual disaster.*

      Rather like the ‘Policy [sic]’ for the Electricity Grid of the U.K., or the ‘(Ignore the) Potholes in the Roads Policy.’ One day there may be an awful problem – but the present band of politicos will not be held to account.

  12. dennisambler permalink
    February 14, 2018 1:36 pm

    There are several reasons for the drought given in this article from Zimbabwe:

    “This modernisation of everything is driving the world to an end and all I know is that we have been facing such extreme low levels of rainfall and subsequent unbearable heat because our ancestors are not happy,” said Enos Mataya from Dande.

    “Drought strikes every election year”. This statement has been sold so cheap that it has become easy to believe because it is concidentally true when one looks at the 2000s and 2008 polls.

    Mutoko-based environmentalist Kudakwashe Makanda, said …

    “When we have prolonged dry spells, it is because we are no longer respecting the Indigenous Knowledge Systems (IKS) and now whether the said spirits are happy or not the solution is not appeasement ceremonies but to revert to responsible practices,” he said.

    Equally esoteric, is the official reason given in the article:

    “However, scientists, backed by convincing evidence, maintain that climate change emanates from toxic carbon gas emissions that are damaging the ozone layer and causing global warming.”

    • dave permalink
      February 14, 2018 5:38 pm

      “…toxic carbon gas…”

      I had heard of diamond, graphite, amorphous, and fullerene carbon. I did not know that it floated around as a killer gas!

      • It doesn't add up... permalink
        February 14, 2018 10:51 pm

        Carbon does exist as a vapor – but only at lowish pressures (atmospheric and lower), and temperatures similar to the surface of the sun or higher

      • dave permalink
        February 15, 2018 10:04 am

        “…at temperatures similar to the surface of the sun…”

        When I would class it as a plasma not a vapor. Of course, since it can be compressed to a liquid without change of temperature it might be argued differently.

  13. Ben Vorlich permalink
    February 14, 2018 1:56 pm

    Since the Sao Paulo/Brazilian drought ended last year after three years duration I suppose the Climate Change lot have been desperate for another. Unlike Southern Rail trains globally droughts come along regularly and reliably.

  14. Russ Wood permalink
    February 15, 2018 4:13 pm

    You can add to that the fact that a number of projects intended to improve the water supply in South Africa have been held up for years by the Water and Sanitation Minister, because, apparently, she wants ANC-friendly companies to do the work. (I would assume that the assigned companies weren’t about to give a decent kick-back). Adding to the general shortage of drinking water is the lack of maintenance at municipal sewage processing plants, to the extent that a large percentage of them are releasing untreated waste into rivers. This, in turn, is leading to eutrophication of water supply dams. Oh yes, and the ANC government has a dislike of the country that is most expert on water management – Israel.
    All in all, the water-out situation is, like most famines, directly attributable to lousy government!

  15. February 19, 2018 10:46 pm

    We’ve been here before : Drought is one thing, water shortage is another thing
    You can have :
    – a drought without a water shortage if you manage things properly.
    and – a BIg Water Shortage without a super drought if you manage things badly.

    • dave permalink
      February 20, 2018 10:15 am

      “Drought” is a reduction in the input to the water supply which leads to an INCONVENIENT reduction in the output of the water supply. Theoretically, humans have control over whether things are convenient or not. It is called being adaptable.

      Conservatives adapt by being careful. Radicals do it by being ingenious. Socialists simply mess up; and then shift the blame, to the Conservatives for “hoarding,” and to the Radicals for “callousness,” for now only saying “I told you so! Remember when you shouted me down?”

      Everybody else bleats, as sheep do when the farmer does not come with the bucket.

      There is an interesting site, from about 4,000 years ago, in the Syrian desert, where the archaeologist can read a true “Biblical Story.” The place was only occupied for a couple of years and was then abandoned. It is a place of ingenious water control. An unknown tribe of expert water-managers built dams and reservoirs in the gullies, and thus supplied enough water for grass for their flocks. They built a modest village. Local nomads were attracted and occupied a growing shanty-area outside the rampart; the two groups seem to have co-existed for a season or two. Then the occupants of the shanty-town invaded and overwhelmed the immigrants, who presumably went on their way. The shanty-men could not maintain the hydraulic works, which soon failed to retain water, and this group disappeared, with only a weird lesson about how to be a useless parasite, as their memorial written in the stones.

  16. February 21, 2018 5:55 am

    IMPORTANT UPDATE : THE residents of Cape Town have successfully pushed out ‘Day Zero’ , the date when the city will have to turn off its taps due to drought. ”
    “The day that taps in drought-hit Cape Town are forecast to run dry has been pushed back another month to July 9, authorities in the South African city announced on Tuesday. “Day Zero” has been periodically pushed back following rain and the…implementation of water-saving measures across the city and the surrounding region.
    At one point, South Africa’s second most populous city had previously been expected to run out of water on April 12. The date has since been delayed a number of times, most recently to June 4.”

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