Eastern Cape's biggest water resource, Kouga Dam, is set to run dry by the end of April, unless decent rains fall in the catchment area in the coming weeks.
This will leave the towns of Hankey and Patensie in the Kouga municipality in the same boat as water-strapped Cape Town, where major dams are set to run dry – a circumstance termed "Day Zero" – in mid-April.
The towns will face a health disaster, as most of their water is sourced from the Kouga Dam – which dipped to an all-time low of 7.15 percent in the past week.
"When the dam dries up, there will be no water for drinking, no water for personal hygiene and no water to flush toilets. We are sitting with the reality of an epic health crisis," said Gamtoos irrigation board chairperson Tertius Meyer in a statement.
Meyer said that at this critical stage, even boreholes were not a viable solution to the crisis.
Day zero with the water crisis is looming for the Kouga region of the Eastern Cape.Disadvantaged communities are already feeling the impact.Their main supply dam is at 9 percent. #Sabcnews pic.twitter.com/znTAMKuouA— Jayed- Leigh Paulse (@JayedLeigh) January 31, 2018
"Those who do have boreholes must use what water they have wisely to make it stretch as far as possible," he said.
"Kouga municipality also needs to manage what little water it has as conservatively as possible, although this has not been the case in the past.
"Nothing can save these communities – only substantial rain."
The area's substantial farming community will also be stripped of its main source of crop irrigation when the dam runs dry, leaving the sector – a major employer in the region – crippled.
A dry Kouga Dam will lead to crop failures and possible stock deaths on farms in the area, with knock-on implications for already hard-hit consumers.
"While the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality has adhered to the restricted access imposed on them when drawing from the Kouga Dam, Kouga has continued to use water in excess. This is a luxury [the municipality] no longer [has]," Meyer said.
The Kouga dam currently only has 7% of its reserves left, three districts in the Eastern Cape have been declared disaster areas.https://t.co/LxhDYqg5oV— The Daily VOX (@thedailyvox) January 30, 2018
Meyer added that the dam was not the only source of water for the Port Elizabeth area – it also gets its water from the Orange River, which is purified at the Nooitegedacht water treatment works.
"Phases one and two to expand that project are already online, with phase three expected to be implemented next year," Meyer said.
"The reality is that we are facing a crisis worse than Cape Town's. Day Zero, with all its implications, is looming closer and closer for Hankey and Patensie.
"All that can save us is really good rain."