By Santiago Losada
Officials in Cape Town, South Africa are preparing to cut off the water supply if residents do not start rationing their usage. South Africa is currently battling with its worst drought in almost a century and usable water levels are dropping tremendously. Scientists dubbed April 12 as “Day Zero”: which is the point at which the water taps in South Africa will run dry.
On that day, the pipelines will be shut down and the city’s residents will be forced to line up every day at water collection points. ITV News reports that the current daily ration of water is 25 liters. A single toilet flush uses around 15 liters. Although strict rations are in place, many residents seem to ignore the warnings; and the city’s mayor, Patricia de Lille, warned that the government will soon start forcing people to save water.
According to Mail & Guardian News, people are running to supermarkets in order to stock up on water. The only part of the city that could be spared from a total water shutdown is the central business district in order to protect and preserve the economy. Even tourists from other parts of South Africa and abroad are told not to visit the city.
If “Day Zero” comes, Cape Town will become the first major city in the world to run out of water. Scientists are also very concerned about the serious effects it could bring to the ecosystem. Cape Town is dealing with its third year of severe drought, but the concern for “Day Zero” only became apparent on January 18, when the mayor told residents that the city had reached a point of no return.
Nature News states that scientists at the University of Cape Town are currently drawing up plans to estimate how much water will be required in order to fulfill basic needs, and many researchers are moving their studies and experiments to labs abroad. The water crisis would also diminish community outreach on public health issues like tuberculosis or HIV.
The director of the Welcome Center for Infectious Diseases Research in Africa, Robert Wilkinson, mentioned how the main priority during a time of water scarcity would be to maintain public health. With less water for bathing and cleaning, the potential for a disease epidemic increases, especially among people living in poorer conditions.
The water crisis could have been less dire if Cape Town put more energy on innovations. Some communities use communal taps and many times these taps waste huge amounts of water because they are left running. Another surprising driver that increases the scarcity of water was the closing of public showers at beaches . Although it might seem like it would help, it actually worsened the situation. Since bathers at beaches cannot use the showers, they go to their hotels or homes and use the portable water there to clean themselves.
According to a report by News24, this crisis is yet another example of the real dangers of climate change. The ever increasing global warming causes rainfalls to become increasingly unreliable and unpredictable and has prolonged heat waves. In order to avoid “Day Zero,” Cape Town can look at the successful practices done in dry the Arab countries and North Africa in order to see how water is conserved used in harsh terrain.