When A City Runs Out of Water. Cape Town Fast approaches Day Zero.
In just a matter of weeks, the city of Cape Town will run out of water!
This majestic metropolis, with a population of over 4 million, perched on the southern tip of South Africa will carry the onerous title of being the first modern, major city in the world to have no water. The residents of Cape Town can hardly be held responsible, however, the burden of ensuring that they can avoid this impending crisis has fallen squarely on their shoulders in an attempt to try and cut consumption down to almost nil.
Of course, there are millions of people around the world who exist without access to even safe drinking water. However, Cape Town is one of the more prosperous cities in the whole of Africa, founded nearly three hundred and fifty years ago. It has a well managed international and domestic tourist infrastructure which alone makes up for 9.9% of the country's GDP. It is festooned with multi-million- dollar beachfront apartments, a thriving business district, superb museums, sprawling suburbs and some of the finest restaurants in the country. So Cape Town's taps running dry would be akin to say, Philadelphia running out of water.
If it can happen to Cape Town, the question has to be asked," could it happen to your city?"
The blame for this looming catastrophe can be laid squarely at the feet of the city management and of course a prolonged drought. Cape Town's outdated water infrastructure has long since lost the ability to keep pace with the rapid growth of its burgeoning population. As the drought took hold and with the second year without rain, the dam levels fell to what water engineers referred to as, critical supply. The city fathers implemented a weak-willed response by launching a campaign entitled "Be Water Aware." which, given the current situation, was a complete and utter failure.
In September 2017, the population was allocated just 23 gallons of water per day per person. By then it was almost too late as the dam levels by then had fallen by another 30%
But the residents hardly rallied to the call of being "aware," as more than half of the population exceeded their daily allocation, which, in a way was to be expected.
Because of the inaction and half the population exceeding their daily limit, the reservoirs no longer resembled dams but rather muddy puddles. The council was then forced to implement a more draconian measure by allocating just 13 gallons of water per day per household, which is less than half of the U.N.s recommended daily usage requirement for domestic household needs. Even this last stand proved ineffective.
Day Zero is fast approaching when the government will turn off the taps supplying water to most homes and businesses in a perhaps futile effort to conserve the last of the dwindling supply. This rule will not apply to vital infrastructures such as Hospitals and fire departments, but even so, the consequences are too horrific to contemplate. When Day Zero arrives, residents will have to line up at communal water points to collect a daily ration of just under 7 gallons a day which is a further cut of 50% of the current allotment.
As with any catastrophe, Day Zero has initiated panic, as residents begin to try and stockpile the precious liquid and has caused a run on water tanks and large containers.
The city itself, until a few years ago was carpeted in lush grass, but now the expansive parks and golf courses have withered and died under cloudless skies. Public restrooms now contain signs urging users to only ‘flush' when necessary. Even the more salubrious restaurants have been forced to adopt vital water saving measures. Patrons will, until this crisis is over, be served their expensive meals on paper plates and served wine in paper cups to save on dishwashing.
If the drought doesn't end soon, the implication for residents will be dire as it has been estimated that up to 350,000 people could lose their jobs. Those in the service industries, hospitality, agriculture workers and the food sector are most at risk. Add to that the time wasted while employees who have managed to keep their jobs abandon their workplaces in order to queue for water placing a further burden on a nation whose economy is already tottering.
The logistics of thousands of people a day lining up to get their daily allowance is, quite frankly frightening. From research gathered apparently, there will be a couple of hundred water collection points scattered around this sprawling city to service a population of over four million. Even if just a few hundred thousand pitch up to 'get their share,' there is likely to be chaos as lines stretch around the block and tempers flare. In a city, used to violence, one can only expect more to prevail.
Of course, as with any catastrophe, there will always be wily entrepreneurs willing to profit off the misery of others and Cape Town is no exception. A new breed, now known as, ‘aquapreneurs' are thriving by offering to deliver water at the outrageous sum of 40c a gallon, however, don't try and drink it; if you want the ‘good stuff' you will have to fork out more.
This is by no means a recent crisis as nearly two decades ago the planners looked into the future and foresaw this day coming. Parliament reacted to the research by recommending (but not in fact building) a sewerage – recycling plant to augment the water catchment areas. Now there is a mad scramble to get a seawater desalination plant up and running but, alas, it is too little too late to avoid Day Zero.
Cape Town will be the first major 1st world city to run out of water but, sure as hell, it won't be the last. Sao Paulo in Brazil is on shaky ground with water fast disappearing and Mexico is already implementing draconian measures to conserve their fast dwindling supplies. Sao Paulo when just 20 days of water was left in their depleted reservoirs experienced a massive three- day deluge that headed off a disaster. This was put down to the power of prayer when the Catholic Church exhorted the population to ‘fall to their knees and pray for rain."
Perhaps the good citizens of Cape Town should follow suit perhaps a last resort.
Paul v Walters is the best selling author of several novels and short stories. When not cocooned in sloth and procrastination in his house in Bali he rises from his frequent naps to scribble for numerous international travel and vox pop journals.