Cape Town on Verge of Running Out of Water

Residents have been restricted to 50 liters of water a day before city taps are projected to be turned off in April.

Feb. 8, 2018
By Isabel Putinja

Recent News

The South African city of Cape Town is expected to run out of water in less than 90 days time. The city has been suf­fer­ing from a severe water short­age fol­low­ing a three-year drought.

This is not a great sit­u­a­tion for us and we are all pray­ing for rain going for­ward.- Brenda Wilkinson, Rio Largo Olive Estate

On January 18, Cape Town’s mayor, Patricia de Lille, declared that the city had reached a point of no return” and water sup­plies were pro­jected to com­pletely run out. Day Zero” is the day taps in the city will be turned off as reser­voir lev­els reach 13.5 per­cent of their capac­ity. This is cur­rently esti­mated to be April 21 but other media reports are announc­ing April 16 or as early as April 12.

Faced with this unprece­dented cri­sis, the city’s 3.7 mil­lion inhab­i­tants have been asked to limit water usage to 87 liters a day per per­son but accord­ing to esti­mates only 55 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion has been respect­ing this tar­get despite the threat of hefty fines. On February 1, the ration was lim­ited to only 50 liters.

Once taps run dry, water will be rationed to 25 liters per per­son and avail­able only from dis­tri­b­u­tion points across the city. Hospitals, schools, and other essen­tial ser­vices will not be cut off from the water sup­ply.

Cape Town’s main water source is from rain­fall and though the city has made progress in water con­ser­va­tion, the gov­ern­ment is being crit­i­cized for not mak­ing the iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of alter­na­tive sources a pri­or­ity. About half of Cape Town’s water comes from the Theewaterskloof Dam which is now already down to 13 per­cent capac­ity while five other reser­voirs pro­vid­ing the other half of the city’s water sup­ply are esti­mated to be only a quar­ter full.


As ten­sions mount and peo­ple ask who’s to blame for this loom­ing cat­a­stro­phe, fin­gers are being pointed at the respon­si­bil­ity of dif­fer­ent lev­els of gov­ern­ment, at care­less cit­i­zens not respect­ing water restric­tions, at cli­mate change trends, and even at the fal­li­bil­ity of weather track­ing sys­tems (which had pre­dicted a rainy win­ter).

Police have been posted at a nat­ural spring where peo­ple have been com­ing day and night to fill water can­is­ters to take home, while some are mak­ing a busi­ness from sell­ing water. Employers are draw­ing plans to orga­nize the work day in shifts so employ­ees will have some time to col­lect their daily water ration from dis­tri­b­u­tion points which will inevitably involve long waits. On social media, res­i­dents are shar­ing water sav­ing tips and details of water dona­tions from other parts of the coun­try under the hash­tag #Water4CapeTown.

As Day Zero looms, there are increas­ing con­cerns about poten­tial prob­lems with the social order, the loss of tourism, and neg­a­tive effects on agri­cul­ture.

Brenda Wilkinson from the fam­ily-run Rio Largo Olive Estate located about 150 km (93 miles) east of Cape Town on the banks of the Breede River, told Olive Oil Times that the annual har­vest is expected to be down by 40 per­cent. The major­ity of pro­duc­ers will get by with 50 per­cent of irri­ga­tion water,” she spec­u­lated. There are some areas how­ever which have suf­fi­cient irri­ga­tion water for the sea­son and are expect­ing a good crop.”

Though all may not be lost for the cur­rent crop year, Wilkinson does have con­cerns for the near future. We need to expe­ri­ence above aver­age rain­fall in the 2018 win­ter rainy sea­son to recharge dams and bore­holes oth­er­wise next year will be a dis­as­ter,” she added. This is not a great sit­u­a­tion for us and we are all pray­ing for rain going for­ward. We will get through this year, by the skin of our teeth.”

Meanwhile back in Cape Town, water and time are quickly run­ning out as the city lingers on the verge of becom­ing the world’s first to com­pletely run out of water. The unprece­dented cri­sis is a sober­ing warn­ing to other parts of the world prone to drought and a poignant exam­ple of a very real impact of cli­mate change.


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