South Africa declares drought a ‘national disaster’

People collect drinking water from pipes fed by an underground spring in St. James, Cape Town. The city is in the grip of a three-year-long drought. (AFP)
Updated 13 February 2018
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South Africa declares drought a ‘national disaster’

CAPE TOWN: South Africa on Tuesday declared a “national disaster” over a drought that has ravaged parts of the country and threatened to leave homes in Cape Town without running water.
The government said it had elevated the drought to a “national disaster” after reassessing its “magnitude and severity.”
Cape Town is in the grip of a three-year-long drought as sparse winter rains have failed to bring relief, and dam levels have dropped dangerously low.
Rains over the weekend raised hopes that the situation would improve, but the downpours were neither heavy nor long enough to have an impact on the situation.
The statement, published in the official government gazette, means that the national government is now responsible for tackling the issue and ensuring relief efforts.
South Africa’s second city is now facing the prospect of having to turn its taps off under a so-called “Day Zero” scenario to conserve the city’s remaining water supplies.
Most Cape Town residents would be forced to queue at communal taps at 200 water points — likely under police or military guard — to collect a daily ration of 25 liters (6.6 US gallons), half the amount allowed now.
At the start of February, the target for personal daily water usage was slashed from 87 liters to 50 liters.
A single toilet flush uses nine liters. It is hoped that usage cuts will buy the city time to find a solution — or for the rains of the southern winter to refill depleted dams.
Reducing household use, which accounts for 70 percent of water consumption, has been prioritized over slashing industry’s usage.
On Tuesday, the predicted date for “Day Zero” was pushed back to June 4 after consumption cuts.
The widespread drought has gripped swathes of the nation’s south and west.
Opposition Democratic Alliance leader Mmusi Maimane praised residents of Cape Town, a tourist magnet, for significantly slashing their water consumption.
“If we keep consumption this low for the weeks and months to come, we will defeat ‘Day Zero’ in 2018,” said Maimane, whose party runs the Cape Town municipality — and the wider region.
The drought facing Cape Town is the worst in 100 years.
The region in which Cape Town, known as the “Mother City” is located, seasonally receives rains in the southern hemisphere winter season running from around June through August.


Vladimir Putin gets lavish welcome on visit to ally Serbia

Updated 44 min 14 sec ago
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Vladimir Putin gets lavish welcome on visit to ally Serbia

  • Church bells tolled, guns saluted and people waved Russian and Serbian flags on Putin’s route through the Serbian capital, Belgrade
  • Serbia has maintained close links with traditional Slavic ally Russia despite formally seeking European Union membership

BELGRADE, Serbia: Vladimir Putin received a hero’s welcome in ally Serbia on Thursday as the Russian president attempted to maintain political and economic influence in the Balkans, which is increasingly looking Westward.
Putin’s presidential plane was escorted over Serbian airspace by MiG-29 fighter jets he recently donated to Serbia as he arrived for the one-day visit. Church bells tolled, guns saluted and people waved Russian and Serbian flags on Putin’s route through the Serbian capital, Belgrade.
Serbia has maintained close links with traditional Slavic ally Russia despite formally seeking European Union membership. It has refused to join Western sanctions against Russia over Ukraine and has pledged to stay out of NATO.
Putin has recently stepped up efforts to restore Moscow’s influence in the former communist countries of Eastern Europe.
Putin and his host, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, praised the relationship between the two countries. Putin handed a top Russian honor to Vucic, who gave a puppy of a Serb dog breed to the Russian president.
Vucic thanked Russia for its support for Serbia’s claim over Kosovo, a former province that declared independence in 2008, and added that “however small,” Serbia has been a “reliable partner” to Russia.
Several bilateral agreements were signed, including on the supply of Russian gas and weapons to Serbia.
On the gas, Putin said Russian companies are ready to invest about $1.4 billion into a stretch of a pipeline that would go from Turkey via EU-member Bulgaria to Serbia and then on to Hungary, “but in the end, everything will depend on other countries, including the European Union.”
Putin’s visit come as thousands have been holding weekly demonstrations against Vucic because of what they see as his autocratic rule.
Tens of thousands of Vucic’s right-wing party supporters were bused into the capital on Thursday to gather in front of the St. Sava Orthodox church, which the two presidents visited. They were chanting slogans including “Serbia-Russia, we don’t need the European Union!“
Vucic’s critics say the gathering was staged to suggest that the Serbian leader has many more supporters than opponents, who have been marching the same route since December to demand free elections and media.
Several liberal Serbian rights groups issued a statement on Thursday protesting “glorification of Vladimir Putin’s authoritarian regime.”
It said that Putin’s visit “indicates that the Serbian rulers are ready to sacrifice human rights and better living standards of citizens because of their servile attitude toward Putin’s regime.”
Russia’s interest in Serbia relates to its strategic position between East and West. Of Serbia’s eight neighbors, five are NATO members and two more are seeking membership; and four are in the EU and two more are working toward accession. Serbia remains Moscow’s only ally in the region.
Unlike NATO, Putin formally does not oppose Serbia’s EU path and analysts believe that this is because he wants a staunch ally — or perhaps a Trojan horse — within the 28-nation bloc.
Putin’s popularity in Serbia is mostly because the Kremlin is supporting Serbia in its rejection of Kosovo’s independence. In contrast, most Western countries have recognized Kosovo’s statehood.