AfroMont and collaborators write a book chapter on the Drakensberg Escarpment for a new Elsevier book

AfroMont and collaborators have written a book chapter on the Drakensberg Escarpment for the new Elsevier book called Mountain Ice and Water: Investigations of the Hydrologic Cycle in Alpine Environments. This book is a new volume of papers reviewed and edited by John Shroder, Emeritus Professor of Geography and Geology at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, USA, and Greg Greenwood, Director of the Mountain Research Initiative from Bern, Switzerland. Chapters in this book were derived from research papers that were delivered at the Perth III Conference on Mountains of our Future Earth in Scotland in October 2015. The conference was established to help develop the knowledge necessary to respond effectively to the risks and opportunities of global environmental change and to support transformations toward global sustainability in the coming decades.

The publication date is 30th November 2016. See https://www.elsevier.com/books/mountain-ice-and-water/shroder/978-0-444-63787-1

Our chapter, the first in the book, is titled “The Drakensberg Escarpment as the Great Supplier of Water to South Africa” by S.J. Taylor, J.W.H. Ferguson, F.A. Engelbrecht, V.R. Clark, S. Van Rensburg and N. Barker.

In this book we examine the quantity of water that is produced by the Drakensberg escarpment and examine whether the amount of precipitation on the mountain is changing in response to climate change. South Africa receives most of its economic water from the Drakensberg Escarpment and yet the mountain range is understudied with regard to the amount of water and/or snow that falls on the mountain and whether conditions are changing in the high mountain catchments. South Africa is one of the world’s water stressed countries and water supply versus water demand is coming into focus as a critical constraint on future economic development in the country. It is predicted the demand will outstrip supply in the near future.

Figure 1: High altitude Drakensberg and foothills and some of the many streams flowing from and through these mountains (photo: SJ Taylor) 201612 bookchapter

The mean annual precipitation (MAP) ranged from around 1250 mm in the east to 50 mm in the west with a mean value of around 500 mm. Half of the country has an annual precipitation less than 400 mm. In addition, potential evaporation increases strongly from around 1200 mm annually in the east to 2750 mm in the west. In addition to this, the impacts of climate change on regional water resources are uncertain. While there is high confidence in the projections of drastic increases in temperature over southern Africa under low mitigation, and while the region is likely to become generally drier, the rainfall features of eastern South Africa are uncertain. Some models project drier scenarios while others suggested wetter futures. Even in wetter scenarios, the increase in temperature may still result in reduced water availability. In 2000, surface water resources were already over-allocated in 5 of 19 Water Management Areas. The Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) estimates that South Africa faces shortages of between 2% and 13% of total water requirements by 2025, but if climate change projections and other uncertainties are included, these shortages could be as high as 19-33% by 2025. South Africa’s available runoff is already 98% stored in dams and is transferred around the country through massive water transfer projects to localities where human settlement and industry have outstripped the local water supply.

As the Great Drakensberg Escarpment is such an important source of South Africa’s water, the country, along with Lesotho, needs a holistic mountain governance approach that governs the Great Escarpment in its totality, rather than as a fragmented collection of World Heritage Sites, trans-boundary/peace parks, national parks and Ramsar sites, and unprotected landscapes as per the high-altitude grasslands of Lesotho and overgrazed foothills of South Africa. Taking a cue from the Large Marine Ecosystem approach used to manage ocean fisheries and the Ecosystem Approach proposed by the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, the Drakensberg escarpment should be more strategically managed as a “large mountain ecosystem” where partner and downstream nations contribute skills and finances to the research, management, compliance, and enforcement regimes necessary to manage the mountain landscapes and associated catchments sustainably and equitably into the future.

drakensbergbook Figure 2: River flowing through South Africa with waters arising in the central Drakensberg region of the Great Escarpment