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Drought scorches 2010 pitch

2010-03-09 12:15
Port Elizabeth - The green pitch at Port Elizabeth's World Cup stadium has become an island in a sea of brown, exempt from water limits imposed due to a drought that has scorched the land outside.

Five people work day and night to maintain the grass inside the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, designed to resemble a flower that now appears to blossom from the baked earth.

"To reduce our water consumption, we water in the morning at two o'clock. It's more economical," said Rob Hitchens, manager at the 46 000-seat stadium that will host eight World Cup matches.

It's the only stadium suffering from the drought along South Africa's southern coast, and authorities are scrambling to find solutions.

"We are now implemented to investigate the possibility of filtering the lake water or storage tankers of water from elsewhere. Before the World Cup, we will be using reclaimed water," Hitchens said.

"We want it as soon as possible because we are in a crisis."

Rains failed during the wet season now reaching an end, and the 11 reservoirs that supply the city are falling by five percent every month.

On March 1, they were at just 39% of capacity. The Churchill dam, which also serves two nearby cities, was at just 17%.

"During the World Cup, we should be fine. It's after July that we are running in a very bad situation," said Barry Martin, director of water and sanitation in Nelson Mandela Bay, the municipality that includes Port Elizabeth.

The surge in visitors during South Africa's winter will send water consumption five percent higher than the summer peak, he said.

The municipality is working out a "disaster plan" to ensure alternate water supplies, such as tapping underground water or desalinating sea water, he added.

In October, the municipality imposed water limits on its 1.1 million residents, and asked businesses and hotels to also reduce their water use.

For residents that means limits on watering gardens, no refilling of swimming pools, and cutting water use to 500 litres per day per household, said George Efstratiou, 50, who runs a fresh produce shop.

"We buy more and more fruits and veggies outside of Port Elizabeth because farmers have problems," he said.

Without enough water, farm production has been falling along the Garden Route that links the southern coastal towns that host the luxury hotels where Japan, France and Denmark will base their teams.

"Several farms have already shut down," said Stephan Gericke, chairperson of the George Agricultural Association, which is seeking permission to expand reservoirs.

"The problem is to get approval to extend existing dams and build new ones," he said.

But weather officials say the only real solution for the shrinking water supply is flooding when the rainy season begins again in September.

The last big floods in the Eastern Cape province were in 1981, and to a lesser extent in 2006.

"In Eastern Cape, we don't have normal rainfall. We have too much rain or too little. The drought is to be broken by the flood," said Jarth Sampson, spokesperson for the provincial weather service.

"The situation doesn't look promising for the end of the season. We need a flood to solve the situation. That will make problems too!"

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