By Jessica Loomes
In a race against time, Cape Town’s operation centre is busy drawing up a plan to shut off water accessibility to over four million people. As a result of climate change and lengthy droughts, Cape Town is the first city in the world that will be forced to turn off their water taps.
The plan being discussed will address preparation for Day Zero – the point in which the six dam reservoir systems fall to 13.5 percent of capacity. The plan is being designed with the input of the military, emergency services and epidemiologists, After a three-year-long drought, officials say Day Zero will occur on June 4, 2018. In place of piped water, the city will establish an interim 200 water collection points, scattered around the city to ensure the legally required minimum of 25 litres per person per day. The ramifications of the collection points will cost the South African government millions. The government will be unable to charge for the water distributed at these collection points. Four million people will have to stand in lines armed by guards to collect rations of the regions’ most precious commodity: drinking water.
Citizens of Cape Town have been urged to drastically cut their water use. The South African government have implemented fines of $350 to citizens that exceed the water limit of 87 litres a day. Despite fines, citizens have failed to meet the requirement. This has prompted the government to decrease the quota for water to 50 litres a day to further encourage citizens to decrease their usage. This is around as much water a 5 minute shower takes. The refilling of pools and washing of cars have been banned. With Day Zero just around the corner, the government has to immensely reduce the city’s water usage – and fast.
Another reason as to why the city may run dry is a result of the government’s failure to increase water storage for their increasing population. The Cape Town population has increased by 79 percent since 1995, whereas storage has only increased by 15 percent. This is straining the communities pre-existing reservoirs. Many fear that the crisis is only beginning, and water conditions will only worsen in future years. “We have stocked up on bottled water, hand sanitizers and wet wipes. You literally feel guilty when flushing” 32-year-old Cape Town resident, Wayne Ronne said. Population growth, climate change, and environmental concerns due to the increasing infrastructure, may disrupt the balance between water usage and supply in cities all over the world. Cities in India, Australia and Mexico will soon be at risk to a similar water crisis.
The ruling African National Congress and the Democratic Alliance, the opposition party that runs the city, each take some responsibility for maintaining and administering water. Both parties have falsely believed that this would be a short-term drought. It has only recently dawned on them that the demand for water will just keep increasing. Four new desalination plants are under construction and many water wells are being built and drilled. However, most projects are only half completed so far. South Africa is far from prepared for the looming Day Zero. The recent decision to declare the drought a national disaster means the central government, which is run by the African National Congress, will now take responsibility for relief efforts.
According to Patricia De Lille, a member of the Democratic Alliance and the mayor of Cape Town, “We can no longer ask people to stop wasting water – we must force them.”