When the Taps Will Be Turned Off?
After three years of the worst drought it has experienced in a century, South Africa’s second largest city is bracing for Day Zero: the day the water supply will run dry. Cape Town will be the first major city in a developed country to come to this point.
According to the City of Cape Town’s weekly dashboard, April 21, 2018 will be the day that the taps will be turned off, with this date having advanced forward steadily for weeks. Six major dams (Berg River, Steenbras Upper, Steenbras Lower, Theewaterskloof, Voëlvlei, and Wemmershoek) are Cape Town’s main source of usable water, and they have been crucial to calculating when exactly Day Zero will be. The City of Cape Town and the National Department of Water and Sanitation measure dam levels to check how and whether water restrictions are necessary for residents and businesses. They also take into account how much water is being used by the city’s residents and agriculture, and how much dam water is being lost to evaporation, according to The LA Times.
Currently, the combined level of dams supplying the city are at a critical low of 28.7% storage. The city is implementing necessary projects to avoid Day Zero, some of which include securing alternative water sources with projects such as desalination, recycling, digging for ground water, and imposing a strict water restriction on the city’s residents. Level 6 water restrictions have been in effect as of this month, meaning that Capetonians are limited to using “no more than 87 liters of municipal drinking water per person per day whether you are at home, work or elsewhere,” according to the City of Cape Town government website. “Excessive” water use will lead to a fine or a water management device installed on the property. Daily activities including showering and flushing the toilet are kept at the minimum. Any sort of recreational structures or property maintenance that consume a lot of water have been banned under this restriction. The quota will only become more inflexible approaching Day Zero.
However, with only 39% of Capetonian residents abiding to the 87 liters or less per day restriction and the city’s expensive projects running behind schedule, it is difficult to say that Cape Town will get through Day Zero and successfully recover. But who is to blame? The City of Cape Town has stated, “It is quite unbelievable that a majority of people do not seem to care and are sending all of us headlong towards Day Zero . At this point we must assume that they will not change their behaviour and that the chance of reaching Day Zero on 21 April 2018 is now very likely” (City of Cape Town government website). It is true that residents could be making a better effort to conserve water and cooperate with the city’s desperate emergency drought relief measures, but experts say that Cape Town reacted too late to the water crisis, despite early warnings dating to 2004.
Rather than relying solely on water conservation, demand management, and simply delaying what was to come, Cape Town should have been focused on long term solutions to the water crisis, and augmented the water supply early on so that it could at least keep up with population growth. The city would have been able to mitigate the effects of the drought if it had invested in water projects the city was unwilling to fund at the time due to their costliness, such as the installment of desalinations plants and other technologies.
However, according to the CIA World Factbook, the economy of South Africa as a whole has been decelerating recently. Other problems such as “unemployment, poverty, and inequality – among the highest in the world – remain a challenge.” The economic policy centers on controlling inflation, meaning that South Africa has yet to deal with outdated water infrastructure and unstable electricity. Allocating money to the city of Cape Town for the drought was last minute, but it might have been unavoidable due to the circumstances. Long term economic stability seems to be hardly tangible in the very near future, much less long term water accessibility, water resilience, and disaster risk strategies. Could have Cape Town on it its own fought off a once-in-a-millennium climatic event and averted Day Zero if they had tried? Truthfully, no one can know for sure.
It is important to note that Cape Town may only be the first wave of many to come. Warming temperatures are predicted to cause less and less precipitation in countries all over the world, leading to rapid desertification in areas experiencing drought. More than 85% of the world’s population lives within the driest half of the planet. As temperatures rise, populations will experience even greater strain on their already limited resources.