The move opens the way for financial and humanitarian aid from the state.
The inter-ministerial task team on drought and water scarcity has declared the Western Cape a national disaster area.
The drought has had a devastating effect on the Free State, the Eastern Cape, the Northern Cape and parts of KwaZulu-Natal, with the Western Cape worst affected.
Declaring a national disaster lays the basis for financial and humanitarian aid by the government. The Northern Cape, the Western Cape and the Eastern Cape had already declared provincial disasters. The national disaster declaration was a long time coming as the Western Cape government reportedly asked for it in November 2015.
Minister of Water and Sanitation Nomvula Mokonyane said her meetings with Western Cape Premier Helen Zille regarding the drought and interventions in the Western Cape were productive and fruitful.
Water and sanitation minister Nomvula Paula Mokonyane had harsh words for the DA leader after what she said was ‘opportunistic’ politicking over the Western Cape water crisis.
"We had a very productive meeting with Premier Zille. We talked about what is engulfing the Western Cape. We need many voices but one message. We need speedy intervention. There are licences where we had to sit with, four licences were issued in the space of a month. Another three dam licences were issued before December," she said.
Mokonyane said part of the work of the interministerial committee would include changes to the law to allow for dams to be repurposed in extenuating circumstances to allow available water resources to be used mainly for human consumption and essential needs.
"You start off by reprioritising what you have and you will be in the best position to allocate additional resources. This is something that the technical team of National Treasury and water and sanitation will assist in," said Mokonyane.
Of the 1,521 dams in SA’s water system, 323 belonged to the Department of Water and Sanitation, 66 belonged to other departments, 318 to municipalities, 430 to farmers and 336 to companies in the mining and industry sectors, she said.
Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Des van Rooyen said national government interventions would include drilling boreholes, water restrictions, providing animal feed, desalination, reuse optimisation and regular water-use warning messages.
The belt-tightening exercises of the government meant the disaster grants had to do more with less in the aftermath of the drought, he said.
"The provision for unfortunate eventualities is annual. The minister of finance confirmed that for last year to this year the provincial disaster fund granted R230.4m and R300m for municipal disaster grants. This year the provincial disaster grant stands at R130m because of budget cuts," he said.
"When funds are made available they must be spent on the intended purposes. This challenge is broadening in terms of who it affects."
Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Senzeni Zokwana said organised farmers had come forward to make their water resources available and that was appreciated.