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Aridity is not just a label, it is fate

Dam levels in the Khomas Region are in a precarious state. Both the Von Bach and the Swakoppoort reservoirs are below 40% of full capacity and noticeably lower than at the end of January last year. In Windhoek, Goreangab dam is at exactly the same level as last year, full to the brim but that is due to the daily inflow of effluent and not to local rainfall. It is also a management strategy to keep this dam full to capacity as it plays a major role in water reticulation for the entire city.

Dams in the Omaheke, Hardap and Karas regions are in a somewhat better state, but again, not because of this season, rather it is what is left of the previous season which only gained momentum towards the end of March 2014. Both the Hardap and the Naute reservoirs are substantially fuller than a year ago. However, the Hardap is still below 60% while the Naute holds a respectable 73% but it is still far from the 90% that is more Naute’s style. A bit further north, the Oanob dam has much less water than last year, now only 40% of capacity, but this is because a very large part of its catchment area is part of the Khomas region and not the Hardap region. Elsewhere in this edition, in the weather column, is a more technical discussion of current weather conditions and why this rain season has been very disappointing so far, particularly for all regions south of the veterinary cordon fence. And although good rains were recorded sporadically during January in the Zambezi, Kavango East, Kavango West, Omusati and northern parts of the Kunene regions, these were not widespread and only occurred for a brief spell in January. These regions have all seen their best falls during December last year. It may be premature to be too concerned about rainfall relatively early in the year but what makes me apprehensive is the fact that we are into February, and rainfall, typically will now recede by the month until early April. Secondly, as explained in the weather column, there are observable reasons for the generally poor rainfall during January. These reasons are based on oceanic conditions which will not change overnight. It may be several months before sea surface temperatures in the South Atlantic Ocean are back to normal, and only once this has happened, will the high pressure influence revert to normal. The generally colder water along our coastline is a result of its source. The so-called Benguela upwelling comes from far south, near the Antarctic circle, that is why it is so cold, and why, generally it remains cold throughout the year. It is also the reason why we have the Namib. It is not my place to engage in lengthy meteorological discussions about the state of the Atlantic Ocean other than to state that current conditions are not conducive for normal or above normal precipitation, and that according to observation, we will have reached the end of the rain season before these anomalies have normalised. The fact that we are at the beginning of February concerns me much more. Calendarwise we have about six weeks left of productive rain season. When conditions do not change materially within these six weeks, the season will be lost. It is true that we experienced good late rains last year, but the 40mm of March can not be compared to the 100mm or more we are supposed to get in January. Similarly, the farther south one goes, the later the rain starts with March and April typically the most productive period for the Hardap and Karas regions. However, this must also be viewed in context. These areas need only 150mm per year to be considered a good year.  The rest of the country needs much more rain than the South and the closer one gets to the Okavango river, the higher the benchmark for “normal” rainfall, up to about 600mm per year. I am not aware of crops in the North being under any immediate threat. For an assessment we must wait for the first Early Warning reports prepared by the Ministry of Water, Agriculture and Forestry, but these assessments only evaluates crop conditions after the growing and seeding period. Farmers in the Omaheke regions were quire upbeat at the end of last year, but a month later, I hear many reports of a marked deterioration in grazing. From the central districts, Windhoek, Okahandja, Karibib, Omaruru, Otjiwarongo, Outjo, Okakarara, Grootfontein and Tsumeb, I get only negative feedback. Rainfall across the northern half of the central plateau has been far below normal so far. There is always a chance that conditions will change and that the late season will stage a comeback like last year, but when a certain part of the rain season has come and gone, so has optimal conditions for grass growth. Also, these late spells are short-lived and tend to be sporadic. I certainly hope for an improvement but as things stand now, the 2014/15 season will probably be drier than wetter.

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