Drilling and prayers in the Karoo as taps run dry

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Animals are dying in the region as charity Gift of the Givers trucks water to townships

The Karoo has always been parched — it means land of thirst in the language of its earliest inhabitants, the Khoisan hunter gatherers. Yet nothing prepared residents of its oldest town, Graaff-Reinet, for their worst drought in more than a century.

An abnormally hot summer with rainfall 75% below average, according to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, has struck the region.Bushes and trees clinging to the Karoo’s rocky ravines are withered and grey. Even hardy acacia thorns are dying. Signs mark rivers that are now dry beds.More than a third of his couple of thousand goats and sheep have either died or been sold this year. His 80 cows are now 15.

For Valentia Esho, 45, an unemployed mother of seven in the township of Umasizakhe, it means letting her toilet fill up instead of flushing, never washing clothes and only washing plates that stink. Water is just for drinking. A spokesperson for the municipality says it is drilling boreholes, installing pipelines and building an 18-million litre reservoir, adding: “Usage of water is still high. The community is requested to use water sparingly.”With municipal authorities overwhelmed, charity organisation Gift of the Givers is trucking water to townships and drilling boreholes.

“You see the stick moving where the magnetic field is? There’s water here,” he says. “It’s pure science.”The charity has drilled 1,800 boreholes in the past three years, Groenewald says, only a third of them dry.


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