Drought grips Cape Town

Cape Town may well be the world's first major city to run dry. Source- Getty

Compiled by Avanish Chandrasekaran

The executive mayor of Cape Town has warned citizens and prospective visitors that the city is “very likely” to run out of water in April. That would make Cape Town the world’s first major city to run dry. After two years of drought which saw rain at about one-third of normal levels, reservoirs supplying the city are running dry. Calls to limit individual consumption to 87 litres per day have, say the authorities, been ignored by three-fifths of the people living in greater Cape Town – which has 3.7 million people.

Source- Time

The mayor, Patricia de Lille, said: “It is quite unbelievable that a majority of people do not seem to care and are sending all of us headlong towards Day Zero.” That is the date on which the city runs dry. It was initially set at  21 April, but has since been moved forward to 12 April. “Day Zero is the day that almost all of the taps in the city will be turned off and we will have to queue for water,” says the city council.

The prospect that large sections of South Africa’s showcase city, which features a seafront and is famously perched not far from where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet, might have to cope without running water has induced anxiety as well as resolve among Cape Town’s nearly 4 million residents.

Day Zero is the day that almost all of the taps in the city will be turned off and we will have to queue for water- Cape Town City Council

“I’m constantly thinking about running out of water and worrying about ‘Day Zero,’” Stodel, 26, said. “I’m even having nightmares about wasting water. The other day I had a dream that I took a long shower by mistake!”

“I’m really scared now. It’s dry, dry, dry,” said housekeeper Petronella van Schalkwyk, who prides herself on coming up with inventive ways to save water.

Petronella van Schalkwyk. Source- NBC News

She now baths in a plastic bucket and has moved her bathtub outside where it can catch water should it rain. To clean, van Schalkwyk uses two spray bottles, one with soap and one with water so she doesn’t have to fill a bucket.

“Many people tell me they think I’m crazy for doing all these things to save water at home. They just don’t see the reality of this problem,” she said from her employer’s house in Cape Town’s southern suburbs.

The causes

“Insufficient rainfall and fast declining dam levels have led to the current unprecedented water crisis,” the city authorities said.

The water supply of Cape Town, a “water scarce region”, is fed by six dams in and around the city, in the Western cape, all of which are drastically low.

In 2014, the levels were at 87.9 per cent full. After three years of consecutive falls, they are today at 33 per cent. The bottom 10 per cent of the dam is deemed unusable, so the potable levels is at just 22 per cent.

Images of many of the reservoirs show the extent of the drought, with the Theewaterskloof dam dry and exposing its bed.

Dam levels have been falling in the Western Cape since 2014. Source- Getty

David W Oliver, a postdoctoral research fellow at the Global Change Institute at the University of the Witwatersrand, wrote in an article for the Conversation, that the water crisis had political routes, too.

“Had systems in national government been running smoothly, Cape Town’s water crisis could have been mitigated,” he said. “Appropriate water allocations would have made more water available to Cape Town. And with timely responses to disaster declarations, water augmentation infrastructure could have been up and running already.

“Cape Town shows some of the best water saving levels in the world. But its supply dams are being hit by national government’s bungled water allocations to agriculture.”

Here is a brief explainer of the story-

Source(s)- The Independent, The Telegraph, NBC News