20/11/2016 09:09 SAST | Updated 20/11/2016 20:05 SAST

A Short Guide To South Africa's 2016 Drought

You really need to stop taking long showers. There's a drought happening, people!

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Dry season in a corn field

South Africa experienced its lowest rainfall in recorded history in 2015. KwaZulu-Natal was hit most severely, with two critical dams at three-decade lows.

What exactly is a drought? AfricaCheck provides a great explanation here. By August this year eight of our nine provinces were declared drought disaster zones.

Throughout this year, level one and two water shedding took place, leaving many suburbs without running water at different times of the day.

But sometimes the water shortages can seem like a mere annoyance in middle class South African life.

And many South Africans still don't seem to understand how water resources are allocated, expecting to have no water cuts after a few days of strong rain.

But it doesn't work that way. Dams feeding the country are still at critically low levels, so some rain for a few days does very little to fill them up.

The causes of South Africa's drought have been attributed to climate change and El Niño –- a rise in ocean temperature that alters global weather and results in less rainfall in Southern Africa.

Scientist and water expert Anthony Turton from the University of Free State told The Huffington Post South Africa that the government has been aware of South Africa's increasingly alarming water problems since 2013, citing the National Water Resource Strategy 2013 (NWRS2) – an official document by the Department of Water Affairs and Sanitation from 2004 and updated in 2012 and 2013.

The Institute for Security Studies seems to agree with Turton that the government has been aware of the water crisis, which they identified in their 2013 African Futures paper.

"The policies set out in the NWRS2 are clearly not enough to address the water constraints facing South Africa. Even if policies that would close the demand-supply gap by 2035 are put in place now, South Africa will still be over-exploiting water for the next 20 years," the report states.

As if our lack of rain and historic water problems isn't enough, the government has to deal with acid mine drainage (AMD), which is the flow or seeping of polluted water from old mining areas. This water needs desalinisation to be consumable – a process that requires the minerals and salts to be removed from water to make it potable and safe for agricultural use. While the department knew about the urgency of the problem, especially in Gauteng, since 2002, Water Minister Nomvula Mokonyane only launched a long-term acid mine water solution only in May this year.

Yet another long-delayed project that has led to serious water restrictions is the second phase of the Lesotho Highlands Project, which will see more water from the mountain kingdom piped to Gauteng. The agreement was signed between the two countries in 2010, but is yet to be implemented.

Reports say dubious dealings, that apparently involves Mokonyane, means the next phase will only be completed in 2025.

With that in mind, South Africans had best read these 100+ tips for saving water. We're in for a long, dry ride.