Cape Town Water Crisis: Is Day Zero Approaching?

Updated on

South African officials have declared April 12th, 2018 as “Day Zero” in the Cape Town water crisis. Experts believe that if serious changes aren’t made, Cape Town will have to shut off the water supply and reduce water rations to 25 liters a day.

Officials announced Wednesday that the dams surrounding Cape Town, responsible for providing water to the city, are only at 17.2% usable water. Each day, that percent drops by 1.4%. South African officials have asked the people of Cape Town to begin seriously rationing water. Right now, residents are allowed 87 liters of water per day, but this number will drop to 50 by February 1st. Day Zero had previously been set for April 22nd, but this week officials have had to move the estimated date forward.  

When the dams decrease to 13.5%, the government will shut down the water pipelines. Citizens will then have to go to one of the city’s 200 water collection points to receive their daily ration, likely waiting in excruciatingly long lines. Officials will set the daily ration at 25 liters of water per day. Considering that flushing the toilet just once uses 15 liters, this is hardly a livable amount of water.

The city has already lowered water pressure in hopes of alleviating the Cape Town water crisis, but officials still find residents are using 86 million liters over their goal. Some of the abuse of the water system may be related to gang activity.

Who’s to Blame?

Although the city has been asking residents for months to limit water usage, authorities believe that 60% of residents of Cape Town ignored the entreaties of the local government. The city’s mayor, Patricia de Lille, has been unafraid to voice her frustration over the Cape Town water crisis:

Despite our urging for months, 60 percent of Capetonians are callously using more than 87 litres per day. It is quite unbelievable that a majority of people do not seem to care and are sending all of us headlong towards Day Zero. We can no longer ask people to stop wasting water. We must force them.

While government officials are angry with the residents of Cape Town for failing to properly ration and follow recommendations, many citizens have turned their frustrations to the government for allowing the Cape Town water crisis to devolve to this point. Some point to a political rivalry between the ruling government of the Western Cape province, the Democratic Alliance, and South Africa’s ruling party, the ANC, as a possible hindrance to dealing with the water situation.

Since Cape Town is an ocean front city, many have questioned why desalination, although an expensive process, hasn’t become a predominant practice to prevent an all out water crisis. Four desalination plants are currently being built. With three of the plants already behind schedule, none can be expected to be functional by Day Zero. Some believe the delay despite the urgency of the Cape Town water crisis, might point towards potential corruption. Gangs have also begun stockpiling freshwater, speculating they will be able to sell the water for exorbitant prices on the black market in the coming weeks.

Impact on Residents

Despite the frustrations of Cape Town’s mayor, many residents are becoming creative with their water rations. Water from cooking and cleaning are being collected to water plants and flush toilets. This has caused a shortage of storage containers and buckets in the city. Instead, residents are purchasing anything that could potentially hold water.

Residents have reported that the water coming out of taps now tastes different and has been giving children stomach issues. A local spring utilized by a brewery has become the go-to for many seeking fresh drinking water, but residents must wait in long lines to receive water. The spring is now also being exploited by gangs.

Because of the Cape Town water crisis, those who can afford to leave the city are taking flight, not only to avoid the uncomfortable situation of being unable to bathe, wash hands, or flush toilets, but also to lessen the burden on the already depleted dams. Unfortunately, many residents of Cape Town and the surrounding areas don’t have the financial resources to temporarily or permanently relocate.

Economic Impact?

Cape Town accounts for 9.9% of South Africa’s total GDP, with a significantly higher GDP per capita than the rest of South Africa and a lower unemployment rate. With stunning beaches and a nearby wine region, tourism plays a major factor in the economy of the coastal city. 50% of visitors to South Africa visit the Western Cape, bringing 8 million visitors a year. Despite the Cape Town water crisis, many international tourists are still visiting the port city, but are greeted by banners advertising the new drought rules on leaving the airport.

The South African Department of Tourism has attempted to allay the fears of tourists, issuing a statement:

There will be water for tourists’ essential daily needs including access to drinking water and for personal hygiene. At present, tourists will be able to shower and maintain daily hygiene. Some swimming pools at hotels have been converted to salt (ocean) water.

The Western Cape also produces around 60% of South Africa’s agricultural exports, worth more than $1 billion a year. Food prices have already increased in South Africa as a result of the drought. Unemployment has likewise increased.

The unique and protected wildlife in South Africa is also suffering from the drought that has so far lasted for 2 years. The Kruger National Park in eastern South Africa, is not only a source of national pride, but draws more than a million visitors a year. The drought has ruined much of the park’s scenery and threatens animals like zebras, hippos, and buffalo. However, scavengers and predators tend to thrive during drought seasons.

The city of Cape Town will vote Friday on a measure that would place a tariff on water, increasing bills by five for those who use the least amount and by up to 140 times for heavier users. The government hopes financial penalties will be able to convince residents to conserve.

Leave a Comment