Environment

‘Day Zero’: Reeling Under Drought, Cape Town to Run out of Water by April

In a portent of a Mad Max-like situation, South Africa’s Cape Town has less than 90 days’ worth of water left in its reservoirs.

Cape Town’s 3.7 million residents have been restricted to utilising 50 litres of water per person per day. Credit: Reuters

With less than 100 days worth of water in its reservoirs, Cape Town is swiftly moving towards what is being dubbed as ‘Day Zero’ – the day the taps run dry.

Cape Town has been caught in the throes of an unprecedented drought for three years. ‘Day Zero’ may sound dire, but it is an actual date that is calculated weekly based on current reservoir capacity and the current rate of consumption. The original projection was April 29, but the date has unfortunately been moved forward to April 21.

A tourist destination like no other, with scenic beaches and Table Mountain serving as the backdrop, travellers are still welcome, but have been advised to use as little water as possible. “All visitors, whether they’re staying in hotels or holiday rentals, to pitch in — by using a bucket in the shower to recycle water, not requesting fresh towels and linens daily, and adapting the practices that are becoming the norm for Capetonians,” reports the New York Times.

As the city races to implement alternatives – recycling, boreholes and desalination – the city’s 3.7 million residents have been restricted to utilising 50 litres of water per person per day, down from 87 litres last week. Those found using more are being fined.

Just last week, mayor de Lille said, “Dam levels have dipped to 28.7% this past week – down by one percentage point. The city has ramped up pressure management to drive down consumption – timing to stretch our water supply past the winter rainy season.”

Thanks to abundant rainfall, “98% of Cape Town’s water supply comes from surface water, and we haven’t [historically] explored a range of other water alternatives,” Kevin Winter, a senior lecturer in environmental science at the University of Cape Town, told Al Jazeera.

As TIME reports, once the dams reach 13.5% capacity, the municipal water supply will shut off water for all but essential services, such as hospitals.

When Cape Town does reach ‘Day Zero’, in accordance to Cape Town’s disaster plan, authorities will turn off the taps and install some 200 water collection sites across the city. Water will then be limited to 25 litres a person.

To reduce water usage, the local government has banned residents from watering their gardens and washing their cars, shut most public swimming pools and cut the water pressure, according to Bloomberg.

Residents have already imposed water-saving measures in full force. “We catch water from our showers in buckets, and throw it into our toilets,” Dickson, who has been living in the South African city for the last 24 years, told Al Jazeera. “We’re doing all sorts of things,” she said. “People are even catching water off their roofs.”

“The city of Cape Town could conceivably become the first major city in the world to run out of water, and that could happen in the next four months,” Dr Anthony Turton, a professor at the Centre for Environmental Management at the University of the Free State told New York Times. “It’s not an impending crisis — we’re deep, deep, deep in crisis.”

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