CAPE TOWN (13 February 2018) – The South African government today declared the three-year drought and the subsequent water crisis a national disaster.
Rainfall this week raised a glimmer of hope for a nation of people who have been facing an impending ‘Day Zero.’ That is the day the city’s water taps are predicted to run dry. That date is currently set for June 4th, a reprieve from an earlier prediction of April 12th just a few weeks ago.
If and when that day arrives, clean water will be rationed and supplied from guarded distribution centers throughout the city.
The water crisis has been afflicting Cape Towners for some time as reservoirs have been at record lows and water restrictions have been imposed in a life-altering way.
How bad is it? The average American uses about 98 gallons of water per day. South Africans in the drought region are currently limited to 13 gallons per person per day.
People are showering in buckets so that they can retain the used water to fill toilets. Residents have been asked to flush their toilets no more than once a day.
Some have reverted to disposing of used toilet paper in trash bags to avoid clogging their plumbing systems. It’s something that everyone will have to do if the government is unable to deliver water to residents and businesses.
Laundry water is being captured for watering gardens. Even then, they are washing clothes far less often, wearing their dirty garments beyond socially acceptable norms.
Some rural areas are already laboring under the strain of having no water.
Once the water stops flowing, access to potable water will be only a part of the problem. The cessation of wastewater flow will become a breeding ground for diseases like typhoid and cholera.
Current Cape Town Water Statistics
- Reservoir storage is at 24.7 % of capacity – a 0.6% decline over the past week. In perspective, once capacity reaches 10% it becomes difficult, if not impossible to extract the remaining water. In effect, the net usable capacity in the reservoirs is only 14.7%
- Cumulative weekly public water usage is roughly 60 million cubic meters, about half of what it would be without restrictions.
- Cape Town is preparing about 200 municipal water distribution points in preparation for Day Zero. Residents will be limited to 6.6 gallons per person per day. With 4 million residents, the queues at each station would number in the thousands.
- It is now illegal for residents to use drinking water to wash vehicles, water gardens, or fill swimming pools.
- Cape Town’s goal is to reduce public consumption to 119 million gallons per day. That is about 30 gallons per person per day.
Cape Town could become the first major city in the world to face a total lack of public drinking water. The public will feel the crisis even before reservoirs drop to 10%, as the government will limit clean water delivery to hospitals and settlements that are already dependent on communal taps.
- The Atlantic, Big-City Life on Very Little Water
- City of Cape Town, Water Dashboard
- BBC News, Cape Town drought declared a ‘national disaster’
- News24 (Cape Town), #DayZero pushed back to June, as drought declared a national disaster
- Business Insider, The world’s first major city at risk of running out of water has pushed back its ‘Day Zero’
- Nature, As Cape Town water crisis deepens, scientists prepare for ‘Day Zero’
- The Los Angeles Times, Americans use twice as much water as they think they do, study says