Africa / Middle East

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

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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.

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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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