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Negative impact of drought on the economy of South Africa

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Exploring the negative impact droughts have on the various sectors of the economy and how this affects the SA people and society, due to declined production and security.


Droughts are generally cause for worry where the economy is concerned. They not only impact some of the biggest sectors of the economy, but also do damage to the livelihoods of people.

A drought is a shortage of water resources due to an overall lack of rain and water resources, often paired with extremely hot and dry temperatures. Droughts are most severely felt by lands that rely on an adequate water supply for the production and growth of plantations of the country’s food resources.

Impact of drought on the economy

The effects of a drought are felt the most by the economy where there is a disturbance in the sectors that depend heavily on the availability of water, such as the agriculture sector and food sector. Farmers are also impacted by droughts because crop and food growth declines as a consequence of the scarcity of water for the nourishment of crops. Furthermore, workers in the impacted sectors and the farming industry can also suffer job loss from the decline in production caused by the unavailability of water.

Negative impact of drought on the economy of South Africa

A drought usually entails the shortage of enough water on land for the nourishment of vital crops and food. The land becomes drier than usual, making it difficult for food and crops to grow. This is a cause for concern for the economy, as many important drivers of the economy, namely, agricultural production, society, and people all rely heavily on the supply of water.

With the scarcity of food production and agricultural activity, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) becomes negatively impacted as it relates to agriculture’s contribution. Food supply becomes affected and a rise in food prices affects people, further increasing the already steep costs of living. Job losses in the agriculture and farming industries also increase with the decline in production. According to the latest 2020 Agricultural Survey, total income in agriculture increased by 3.9 percent to R340.7 billion.

Droughts and dam levels

Droughts in South Africa also contribute to a decline in the water levels of the country’s biggest dams. Dams dry up much quicker when the drier climate conditions present drought effects. The Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) closely monitors the dam levels when droughts seem to pose a threat to water levels. Dams rely largely on rain for their water supply, so in the event that rain is scarce, dam levels will decline. In April 2022, DWS updated the public on the boosted water levels following recent rains.

Farmers and drought complications

Farmers bear the dreaded burden of the impact of droughts, in particular, smallholder farmers are the most vulnerable. Smallholder farmers, unfortunately, are often less equipped in terms of infrastructure, human and financial resources, and agricultural equipment to deal with the devastation of droughts.

Smallholder farmers are said to produce approximately 75 to 80 percent of food, contributing greatly to food security and household welfare in the country. When drought hits agricultural activity, farming is negatively impacted and becomes strained. As a result, crops such as maize, cotton, tobacco, and other horticultural crops and livestock production decrease.

Social impacts of droughts

Droughts not only affect production but will also severely impact societies economically. The shortage of food and the decline in production sectors lead to social instability. Food security is impacted as the rise of food costs affect the disadvantaged the most.

Poverty is also likely to increase as a lack of production in crucial sectors result in unemployment and job losses increase, particularly in the farming industry. On top of that, migration from rural to urban areas also increases as people go out in search for better opportunities and paying jobs to survive.

Final thoughts

Droughts are one of the worst things to happen to any economy as their impacts are severely negative. Major sectors of the economy that uphold food security and production feel the impacts, leading to more social impacts such as food insecurity and unemployment amongst workers in these sectors.

Drought is largely felt by the farming industry which is the main driver of food production. The impacts of droughts negatively impact their contributions to food production resulting in losses of jobs in the industry and more strain on the economy as food prices rise.


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