• Drought is a national emergency in South Africa – again.
  • On Wednesday, cooperative governance and traditional affairs minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma officially declared "the drought crisis affecting multiple provinces as a National State of Disaster".
  • The last national drought disaster was less than two years ago.
  • The declaration makes available a range of powers to the government – and opens up the money tap.
  • For more stories go to the Business Insider South Africa homepage.

As of Wednesday, South Africa is officially again in a state of national disaster because of drought.

Cooperative governance and traditional affairs minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma made the formal declaration – of "the drought crisis affecting multiple provinces as a National State of Disaster" – in the Government Gazette.

She had done so in light of "the impact of the persisting drought conditions in many parts of the country" and "taking into account the need to augment the existing drought relief interventions undertaken by organs of state", Dlamini-Zuma said.

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The declaration itself does little directly, but activates broad powers for the executive to issue directives and make regulations intended to help the public, provide relief, and protect property affected by a disaster.

It also opens up access to emergency funds.

Drought was last declared a national disaster in March 2018, almost exactly two years ago. By the time that declaration was allowed to lapse, in June 2018, R433.52 million had been accessed, by way of various grants, for short-term relief. 

Agriculture was hard hit in recent months, contracting by 7.6% in the last quarter, but it is forecast to bounce back sharply in the first quarter of this year.

See also | The SA economy shrunk over recent months – but one sector looks set for a dramatic comeback

A provisional R500 million had been set aside "for disaster management to respond to the impact of recent floods and the ongoing drought", finance minister Tito Mboweni announced in his 2020 Budget statement in late February. That money, Budget documents showed, had been reallocated from the provincial roads maintenance grant.

South Africa's current system of disaster funding, the national Treasury said in its annual Budget review, "is designed to allow for the rapid release of funds immediately following the declaration of a disaster, and to fund the repair or reconstruction of infrastructure after an event".

This system is due to be reviewed, in conjunction with the National Disaster Management Centre – with a focus on the impact of climate change, which "will make extreme weather events more common, and the disaster funding system needs to adapt to this new reality", said Treasury.

"While there are problems and inefficiencies within the existing system that need to be addressed through this review, it must also consider how to place greater emphasis on being prepared before disasters occur. The system also needs to be adapted to respond better to long-running disasters such as drought conditions that may last for several years."

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