Drought 2015

Drought is one of the most problematic natural disasters in the world and Botswana is no exception when it comes to the matter. In fact Botswana is a drought prone country, as is widely known. The basic reasons for this are its semi-arid environment with its relatively low and variable supply of resources such as water in any form be it precipitation, rainfall or surface water and its extreme temperatures. Drought can therefore be described as a prolonged period of abnormally low rainfall coupled with high temperatures that lead to high evaporation as well as evapotranspiration, leading to a shortage of water.It can also refer in detail to a deficiency in rainfall in terms of its timing, spatial-temporal distribution, and/or overall amounts received and whether they were severe enough to negatively affect plant growth, water supplies, wildlife condition and ultimately human livelihoods and food security in general.

This conditions or state have prompted the President of Botswana Lt. General Seretse Khama Ian Khama to declare that the whole country is drought stricken and to even announce a list of relief measures and actions for the period 1st July 2015 to 30th June 2016. The declaration was based on the release of findings of an assessment on the Drought and Household Food Security Outlook conducted from the 23rd March to 10th April 2015, which indicate that there was a significant decline in the rainfall distribution coupled with scorching heat wave that prolonged the dry spell and has brought it to its extreme.

This is not the first time that Botswana has experienced drought in fact, there is long rap sheet of drought periods in the past. The most previous having been declared in July 2013, following a 22-day nationwide assessment that found that while a high area of crops had been planted, a long dry spell had caused general failure. The loss echoed countrywide, particularly in the drier South, where inadequate rains, worsened by hot temperatures that dented the produce farmers were hoping to reap in the coming months.

Weather Pattern

The weather has been gradually changing over the years and weather patterns across the continent are becoming increasingly unpredictable, probably due to global warming; we’re seeing downpours in the middle of deserts and damaging droughts when rains should be falling.
Botswana’s climatic pattern is typical of southern Africa, although its rainfall is less than countries further east. The rains in Botswana come mostly between December and March, when average minimum temperatures are in the low 20°s. Some days will be bright and sunny, some will have afternoon thunderstorms, and some will just be grey.

There has been rainfall deficits in seasonal rainfall across the entire country as of March 2013. The only areas that had registered surplus rainfall are tiny pockets in Central, North East and Chobe Districts. During the month of October there was little to no rains received except for patches of rains over northern Ghanzi, some areas in Ngamiland, Central and southern Kgalagadi. In November 2014, most areas started to receive normal to above normal rains. The onset of the rains started in mid-November for most places. Most districts received normal to above normal rainfall in the month of October-December 2014.During the month of January 2015, there was a drastic reduction in rainfall which marked the start of the prolonged dry spell of close to two months into February in most areas. Most areas received normal to below normal rains. This pattern continued in February, except for some places in the North East district. This indicates that the rainfall distribution over space and time was poor. Rains were experienced during March over the bulk of Botswana, whereby some areas in the Ghanzi district recorded heavy falls. The general observation is that there was a decline in rainfall during the months of Jan-March 2015 with most areas in the country recording below normal rainfall.

Temperature changes have also changed. There are extremes of temperature, which can be below freezing point during the night in July and going beyond 400C in the day. December and January being 280C in the southwestern part of the country. The lowest mean temperatures are in June and July being 120C in the extreme Southwestern and 160C in the North.

Vegetation and Water availability

As a consequence of widespread deficit in rainfall, below normal to normal vegetation conditions were observed to be quite widespread across the country. The most severe vegetation conditions were observed in the Southern parts of the country and central areas especially bordering (Ghanzi, Central and Ngamiland) including Kgatleng, South East, Kweneng and Kgalagadi Districts. The difference of vegetation growth with the long term average (1998-2014) to between December 2014 and March 2015. It is observed that there has been a significant deterioration in vegetation development since the beginning of 2015.The only district with better vegetation growth consistently is the Chobe District.

The assessment also found that available grazing and water will not sustain livestock until the next rainy season as a result of the poor rainfall received and dry spell experienced. Compared to the year 2013/14 it was found that wildlife, rangeland and water conditions have also declined. Water levels were observed to be relatively low in catchment areas for the Okavango, Chobe-Zambezi, Ngotwane, and Limpopo rivers, as compared to the year 2013/2014. This has resulted in reduced inflows into the dams and recharge into well-fields. Although most districts received normal to below normal rainfall, there is abundance of biomass produced in the year 2013/14.

There are numerous ways or options to capture water. One alternative could be the drilling of boreholes either as individuals or as community boreholes that supply water and act as reliable source of water for livestock and people. Also harvesting of rainwater is a source of relief in areas where there is shortage of water and where underground water is salty for human and/or animal consumption. Building water harvesting structures either using the non-catchment and either underground or above ground storage tanks is a good option.

Drought situation summary for districts

In terms of drought severity for the 2014/15 season. The Western half of the country is the worst affected by drought. The areas with low drought severity are the greater part of Chobe District, some pockets of Central District into North East and Central Kalahari Game Reserve. The district drought severity can be summarized as:

Table 1: Drought Situation Summary for Districts

District Drought Severity
Ngamiland High to Medium
Chobe Low to Medium
Central Medium
North East Low to medium
Ghanzi High
Kgalagadi High
Kweneng Medium to high
Southern High
South East High
Kgatleng Medium

Source: Department of Meteorological Services (DMS)/MESA Thematic Action, 2015

Impact assessment on Agriculture

There has been great loss in crop production with few hectares being ploughed and most of the crops failing due to long dry periods and extreme high temperatures. The 2014/15 agricultural season was characterized by unfavorable weather conditions, which were caused by late, low, and unevenly distributed rainfall as well as excessive heat. This resulted in delayed ploughing and planting in most parts of the country. The low rainfalls coupled with the heat waves caused excessive stress to both crop and range resources. This harsh weather conditions resulted in crop failure in most parts of the country as well as poor range resources for livestock. It was also observed that even in areas where the rains were better, the harvest tend to be low due to the heat stress that the crops were exposed to. The resultant effect of these extreme weather conditions would be poor harvest and limited grazing from the rangeland.

The current grazing condition (condition score 2) which is poor to fair will not sustain livestock until the next rainy season. The forage is expected to decline as the winter season approaches, hence less pasture available for livestock before the next rainy season. The livestock body condition (3) will deteriorate before the advent of the rainy season. The water situation (3) will not sustain livestock throughout the dry season.

Suggestions during drought

To prepare for this drought season livestock producers should consider harvesting water using various water catchments when little rain falls, conserve the water that is available to sustain their livestock.

Feeding is going to be a challenge therefore it is advisable to preserve what farmers have in terms of crop residues, may and preserve hay as well as bayle other grasses to give their livestock.it is also important foe farmers to consider making silage and other feed mixes to supplement the little graze and browse available.

Another option that you might have to consider is buying feed from Livestock Advisory Centers as well as other feed suppliers to give your livestock. This can be considered since the Government, through the Ministry of Agriculture, also provides a 25% subsidy to farmers on the following items purchased through the Livestock Advisory Centers (LACs) and Botswana Agricultural Marketing Board for; * 50 Kg Di-Calcium Phosphate; * 50 Kg Drought Pellets;* 30 Kg Bran;* 50 Kg Coarse salt; * 30 kg Lucerne/ Lab Lab/ Maize / Sorghum stalk bales; * 50 kg Dairy Meal. Therefore it is an opportunity for farmers to capitalize and save their livestock while it is affordable to do so.

As for feeding patterns those who graze should consider rotational grazing even in communal areas it is advisable to rotate the grazing areas. Since a lot of deficits are around the country mineral supplementations should not be forgotten as livestock demands will not be met by the deteriorating grazing pastures.

It is also important to prevent veld fires as they would damage the already fragile and minimal grazing areas that are available. Even though bush encroachment is visible in some areas burning the veld should not be considered as a solution for now as it would aggravate the situation.

Drought is here therefore let us all play our roles with diligence and commitment bearing in mind what we have to lose in order to get through it with minimal to no losses! It is evident that there are no mortalities yet from these drought, hence the importance of keeping it that way.