South Africa's hydro sector hopeful La Nina will replenish reservoirs

Southern African Development Community

As the water levels in dams in South Africa continue to dwindle, the 2015 Zimbabwe Humanitarian Situation Report notes that water levels in all of Zimbabwe’s seven catchment areas are about 18%, their worst levels in decades.

But, this week during the 20th Annual Southern Africa Regional Climate Outlook Forum held in the capital and largest city of Zimbabwe, Harare, it was announced that from October 2016 to March 2017, Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries are likely to receive normal to above-normal rainfall.

The SADC Member States are:

  • Angola
  • Botswana
  • Democratic Republic of Congo
  • Lesotho
  • Madagascar
  • Malawi
  • Mauritius
  • Mozambique
  • Namibia
  • Seychelles
  • South Africa
  • Swaziland
  • United Republic of Tanzania
  • Zambia
  • Zimbabwe

“The bulk of Southern African Development Community is likely to receive normal to above-normal rainfall for most of the period October to December 2016 and January to March 2017,” according to a statement issued by the SADC Climate Services Centre.

Contrasting view

According to the South African Weather Service (SAWS) in their announcement on Aug. 29, conditions over the Indian Ocean may not be conducive for rainfall activities during spring.

Additionally, the agency said 2015-16 drought is still persisting over most parts of South Africa with potentially stalled recovery due to:

  • Predicted above-normal temperature tendencies for the coming seasons;
  • The fact that a well-established La Nina is highly unlikely; and
  • This means that the situation is delicate for all climate sensitive sectors.

La Nina, has been weakened to the point that “neutral conditions may not be completely ruled out,” according to SAWS.

Published reports indicate the present installed hydropower in South Africa is 2,267 MW, generating on average annually about 4,368 GWh. This represents about 23% of the total energy output in South Africa.

Mnikeli Ndabambi, SAWS general manager said there was a “high level of uncertainty” over whether the country would experience the amount of rainfall required to provide drought relief in the upcoming spring/summer season, which is generally the rain season.

“The situation is really bad,” he said, pointing to alarmingly low dam levels and skyrocketing temperatures, which reached record highs in 2015.

Beraki thinks this situation has left climate-sensitive industries in a “delicate” situation.

Last year, El Nino further extended the ongoing drought resulting in 2015 being the driest year on record for South Africa since 1921, according to SAWS.

Regional reports and information from SAWS indicate the disparity among forecast models shows the extent of uncertainty surrounding rainfall and temperature outlooks for the region.

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