Re-imagining the potential of effective drought responses in South Africa

  • Coleen VogelEmail author
  • David Olivier
Original Article


Extreme droughts can result in crippling impacts across local and regional scales. In South Africa, droughts are regular occurrences presenting several opportunities to learn from and improve on drought risk reduction efforts. Drought responses in South Africa, however, show a rather ‘messy’ reality. In the early 1990s, for example, an expanded set of various actors, not only restricted to science ‘experts’, collectively shaped and expanded the traditional drought response that had dominated in the country enabling a rethinking of risk reduction. Recent extreme droughts, occurring over 20 years later, appear to have produced interventions that have taken place with little focussed recollection of these past drought responses. A comparative assessment of the responses to droughts over time reveals some reaction but little effective ‘deep’ thinking about drought. The persistent truths of recurring drought, a failure to learn from the process of drought rather than the event, the problems of the scientific uncertainty linked to droughts and the usual crisis response to drought made by a select few, are all shown to be threats to ensuring adaptation to repeated droughts in the future.


Climate change and climate variability Drought governance Climate variability and uncertainty Science-policy-practice interface 



Thanks to Prof Willem Landman (University Pretoria), Dr. Debra Roberts (EThekwini Municipality, Co-chair Working Group II, AR6), Mr. Koos Van Zyl (AgriSA) and Dianne Callear (actively involved in the National Consultative Forum on Drought) and others interviewed, for their valuable comments and suggestions. Thanks to Dyani Jeram for proof reading and to Lyla Mehta for earlier comments on drafts. The valuable inputs of reviewers greatly improved this article.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Global Change InstituteUniversity of the WitwatersrandJohannesburgSouth Africa

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