4 January 2018

South Africa: Water Crisis Intensifies in Cape Town

Photo: Ashraf Hendricks/GroundUp
Theewaterskloof Dam in drought-stricken Western Cape on 11 May 2017. At the time this picture was taken, the Western Cape’s dam levels were at just 21%.

The South African city of Cape Town could soon dry up after dismal rainfall left city dams almost empty. Residents and visitors are being asked to restrict usage to essentials.

Cape Town is experiencing the worst drought to hit South Africa in decades. Located only a stone's throw away from both the Atlantic and the Indian Ocean, the city's water reserves can only last a few more months. This shortage has led to the municipality raising existing water restrictions to level six. This means that households using more than 10,500 liters (2,773 gallons) per day will now be fined or have water management devices installed on their properties,

The city's "Day Zero" will come when all the reservoirs are empty, and authorities say this could be in early May. The level six restriction measures affect all sectors including domestic, industrial and agriculture in a bid to stretch out the water remaining.

Last option

Councillor Xanthea Limberg, a member of the city's mayoral committe for corporate services, said they had employed all water saving measures in the book, and residents now have no choice but to comply.

"We did the public naming and shaming, where we identified the top 20,000 users, and we released the names of the top 100 users. Moving forward, we will continue with our enforcement activities by issuing fines and notices to appear in court, to sustain our water supply going forward," Limberg said.

The restrictions are taking their toll on residents. Housewife and mother Lucy Mazwi said the shortage had made her rethink her daily routine.

"Whatever water I use in the washing machine, I use it for flushing [the toilet]. And when I wash my dishes in the morning, I keep that water so that I can clean the dishes again in the afternoon. I am just trying to save a little bit of water. As for the kids, they used to go for swimming lessons, but it's not happening anymore," she said.

Will the new restrictions help in the long run?

According to a new study published on 1 January in Nature Climate Change, more than a quarter of Earth's land surface will become significantly drier, even if the global warming limit of two degrees, as laid down in the Paris Agreement, is reached.

Cape Town has been affected by a series of extreme weather patterns; from waves that were 8 meters (26 feet) high crashing against shorelines, to wildfires fanned by strong winds that killed seven people and destroyed property. But the biggest problem, for now, is the water shortage.

One of South Africa's leading environmental lawyers, Terry Winstanley, says the city is quickly running out of options.

"The prognosis long term is that the city can expect to receive less rainfall than it has historically. A possible other solution will be mobile desalination plants, which could address a short-term need," she said.

The Cape Town authorities are already preparing for the worst. Once 'Day Zero' kicks in, there will be 200 water points stationed across the city. Each resident will receive 25 liters of water per day.

South Africa

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