South Africa declares drought a national disaster

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JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South Africa has declared a national disaster over the drought afflicting southern and western regions including Cape Town, though the city pushed back its “Day Zero”, the date when its taps are expected to run dry.

Running water in the port city of 4 million has been affected by a wider pattern of climate change seen around the country including the Western Cape, where Cape Town is located, the Northern Cape and Eastern Cape provinces.

Supplies have yet to recover from an El Nino-triggered drought that began two years ago and is now raising the risk of a shortage that could hit industrial and agricultural output.

The Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs said after re-evaluating the magnitude and severity of the drought that it had reclassified it as a “national disaster”. The department had said last week it was close to making such a declaration.

However, Cape Town, whose picturesque oceanfront location is a major tourist draw, has pushed back to June 4 from May 11 its designated “Day Zero”, when residents will have to start queuing for water, with city officials citing a decline in water usage.

Deputy Mayor Ian Neilson said that over the past week, water consumption in Cape Town had declined to 526 million litres per day. This was the first time the daily average has been kept under 550 million litres, he said. Neilson pointed to city efforts to regulate the flow of water and to residents’ cooperation with official appeals to curb their consumption.

Cape Town hotels have asked guests not to use baths and to limit showers to two minutes or less, while some restaurants are switching to disposable cups and dispensing with table linen.

Reporting by James Macharia; editing by Mark Heinrich