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Cape Town faces crisis with water about to run out

January 30, 2018 Headline News No Comments Email Email

Even with current water restrictions in place, Cape Town has only 82 days of water supply left and the South African city seems set to become the world’s first major metropolis to run out of water, with residents being urged to “save water as if your life depends on it”.

After Cape Town’s worst drought of the century (it has lasted over three years) residents are bracing for “Day Zero” on 21 April 2018, the day the taps are due to run dry. If that happens it will be a grave situation for residents and very serious for visitors. Switching to beer or soft drink won’t help tourists who want a shower in their hotel room.

Water is forecast to stop flowing unless a big change – meaning major rain – happens beforehand.

As Australians well know, droughts can break suddenly and a lack of water can turn into a flood. But in Cape Town, time is running out too.

Sign on toilet door in Cape Town

Cape Town is a big hit with tourists and this is peak season for visits, but already flight crew on international airlines are warning visitors to be careful with water. At the airport visitors are confronted with signs saying “Slow the flow: Save H20” and “Don’t waste a drop!” Toilet signs elsewhere in the city make the same plea, some in fairly graphic language.

Day Zero could be a week earlier or later, depending which forecast you follow. It doesn’t require the dams to be dry – they need to retain some water for operational reasons. If the water level drops below 13.5%, taps will be turned off.

Contingency plans will see police and military deployed to monitor 200 checkpoints across the city, where residents will queue to collect daily water rations: 25 litres of drinking water per person per day. That’s the World Health Organisation recommended minimum amount needed in an emergency. It doesn’t sound a lot of fun.

Poster in Cape Town

Residents are currently restricted to 50 litres of water each per day. They are being asked to limit showers to two minutes, turn off taps while brushing teeth and avoid flushing toilets until it becomes absolutely necessary.

Tourists are still arriving and are very welcome. Tourism is a major job creator in South Africa, but visitors need to be water conscious. Forget having a bath.

Apart from drought, a major contributing factor is a population explosion. Cape Town has always had enough water for everyone but there have never been so many people living there.

A desalination plant is one solution but it has been left too late. A plant would take time to build, cost more than is available and use more electricity than can be locally generated.

Written by Peter Needham

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