Drought -- National Drought Mitigation Center


Date of this Version

February 1994


Published in Drought Network News February 1994. Published by the International Drought Information Center and the National Drought Mitigation Center, School of Natural Resources, University of Nebraska – Lincoln.


The normal total rainfall for the summer rainfall areas in South Africa is 664 mm. Since 1963, the country has recorded 16 seasons below normal and 14 above normal. Since the 1982–83 season, 7 seasons have been below normal and 4 have been above normal. Of these last 11 years, two rainy seasons recorded less than 75% of normal rainfall, which is a coarse estimation of severe drought. These seasons were 1982–83, when an average total of only 408 mm was measured, and 1992–93, when the average total was 484 mm. Although 1991–92 has been called the worst drought this century, for the stations used in this survey, the average total was 510 mm, or about 77% of normal.

The 1981–82 and 1982–83 as well as 1991–92 and 1992–93 seasons were close to being only 75% of normal rainfall. These are the only occasions in the last 70 years that two consecutive summer rainy seasons have had such seriously inadequate rainfall. Fortunately, the geographical and temporal distribution of rainfall varies seasonally, and in 1992–93, adequate rain fell on the main summer cropping areas of South Africa to save the country from experiencing two disastrous crop failures. The greatest impacts of these two very dry seasons were the low levels of surface water stored in dams on which most industrial and urban areas depend and low ground water reserves for boreholes, which support most irrigation and many rural communities. In addition, the sugar industry in Natal and Zululand on the normally wet east coast has been seriously damaged and many sugar mills have closed. Farming and rural communities with accumulated capital losses and mounting debt cannot hope to recover as quickly as the grazing grasses did following good rains in October and November 1993.

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