The Heat Is Online

South Africa Floods Claim 40 Lives

Floods in South Africa Damage Corn, Grape Crops, Jan. 18, 2011

South African farmers may have incurred losses of about 1 billion rand ($145 million) as a result of flooding that damaged grape, corn and sunflower crops, according to Agri SA, a farmers’ organization.

“That’s a very rough estimate for all farmers,” Agri SA economist Dawie Maree said by telephone from Pretoria today. “You can’t do a full assessment before the water level has subsided.”

Floods have hit seven of South Africa’s nine provinces since mid-December, claiming at least 40 lives and displacing more than 6,000 people. The government yesterday declared 28 municipalities disaster areas, saying damages totaling 356 million rand have been recorded so far in three provinces.

“It’s very early to assess whether there is significant damage” to grain fields, said Kobus Laubscher, general manager of Bothaville-based Grain SA, another farmers’ organization. “It’s possible that plants will recover. The next week to ten days will be important in determining the ultimate effect.”

In December, most of the country had more than double the normal volume of rain for the month, according to data on the South African Weather Service website. It forecast a 60 percent chance of more rain in Johannesburg tomorrow and an 80 percent chance of further showers the day after.

“There definitely will be long-term damage to vineyards and infrastructure” such as pumps, dams and retaining walls, Johan van Niekerk, chairman of the Cape Town-based South African Table Grape Industry association, said in a telephone interview. “To put a number to it now is very difficult. The crop being mostly affected by the floods is not table grapes, but raisins.”

The Transvaal Agricultural Union, which also represents farmers, called on the government to provide its members with emergency funding.

“With much of their security lost in the floods, the ability of farmers to service their financial commitments will indeed be under severe pressure,” the union’s president, Ben Marais, said in a letter to Agriculture Minister Tina Joemat- Pettersson circulated via e-mail today. If farmers are not assisted “the consequences for farm workers and their families will deteriorate accordingly.” /