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What Causes Drought and Desertification in South Africa

There are many factors that contribute to drought and desertification in South Africa. One of the primary causes is the country’s geography. South Africa is a landlocked country with a climate that is prone to drought. The country’s main water sources are the Orange River and the Limpopo River, both of which have been known to dry up completely during periods of drought.

Causes of desertification in South Africa

Another contributing factor to drought and desertification in South Africa is how the country’s resources are used. Overgrazing, for example, can lead to desertification, as can the clearing of land for agriculture without proper replanting. Deforestation also plays a role, as it can lead to changes in crop yield and the water cycle. If there is deforestation there is no grass for cows, sheep, goats etc to feed on.

One of the most obvious and immediate triggers of drought in South Africa is low rainfall. The southeastern part of the country is vulnerable to drought, as is the northern part, which includes the North West and Northern provinces. In 2018, drought stretched across the entire country, with record-breaking temperatures contributing to the dry conditions. This combination of drought and heat was a major factor in the deaths of over 100 cows in the North-West Province alone.


Desertification is the degradation of productive land, and it’s another major cause of drought in South Africa. The Northern and eastern parts of the country are areas of arid and semi-arid zones, which are prone to desertification. Desertification threatens the agricultural sector of the Northern Province, for example, as this region has a high density of livestock farms. Desertification in this area is partly caused by overgrazing by this livestock.


As the cause of desertification and drought in South Africa, the climate is widely recognised as being the primary determinant of the type and distribution of natural vegetation in South Africa. Climate affects the amount of water available in South Africa, the more rainfall the greater the amount of surface water and groundwater. Rainfall is usually measured as annual precipitation and can fall as snow or rain depending on the temperature. Temperatures are largely influenced by distance from the distribution.

The climate of South Africa can be divided into five climatic zones, which are further divided into 21 sub-zones. The climate varies considerably across the country, and this is reflected in the diversity of ecosystems found here, including the world’s second-largest desert, the Kalahari Desert, as well as our beautiful beaches and forests. Sub-zone A (Arid Zone) can be found in the Northern and North-West provinces, as well as the Free State province.
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