Guest Column

The day after Day Zero

2018-01-18 14:48
Residents of Ga-Moretsele near Jane Furse contributed R50 per household towards the drilling of a borehole, which supplies them with water once a week. Pictures: Lucas Ledwaba/Mukurukuru Media

Residents of Ga-Moretsele near Jane Furse contributed R50 per household towards the drilling of a borehole, which supplies them with water once a week. Pictures: Lucas Ledwaba/Mukurukuru Media

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Robert J. Traydon

The City of Cape Town announced last week that the forecast date for ‘Day Zero’ has been brought forward by another week to 21 April 2018. What is most concerning about this revised date is that just one month ago (12 December 2017) the forecast date was May 18th.

Thus, between 12 December and 9 January (28 days), the forecast Day Zero date was brought forward by a full 26 days. More simply put: for every day we march towards Day Zero, the forecast date is brought closer by a day.

The latest date in April leaves the city with just 94 days before the taps run dry, and if last month’s trend continues, then a more realistic Day Zero date would be roughly March 5th – seven weeks from now.

Of disturbing significance though, is what Xanthea Limberg, the Mayco member in charge of water, told GroundUp during an interview about the calculation of the Day Zero date: "Day Zero is calculated by subtracting the expected usage of water from the Western Cape Water Supply System current dam volumes."

Surely this simple method of calculation is not sufficient to deal with this extremely complex water problem that impacts the lives of over four million Capetonians. It also assumes that no water supply augmentation projects will be online before Day Zero.

The days before Day Zero

One apparent shortcoming of this calculation method is that it ignores a key uncertainty… how the city’s population will behave in the weeks and days leading up to Day Zero. To assume that the city’s water austerity mindset will remain in place right up until the day the taps run dry is wishful thinking indeed.

A more realistic calculation would take into account exponentially rising water demand as Day Zero approaches. It’s more likely that as the reality of the taps running dry sets in, the human instincts of self-preservation and panic will begin to take hold and spread across the city’s population.

This will result in people stockpiling as much water as they can, irrespective of the cost and/or fines, because the consequences of not having at least a month’s supply of water post Day Zero, are too horrific to contemplate – especially considering the city’s apparent lack of preparedness for the ‘day after Day Zero’.

This so-called ‘run on the taps’ will result in Day Zero arriving far sooner than anticipated. Thus, it is imperative that the City either institute comprehensive measures to curb water stockpiling, or take the inevitable escalating demand into consideration when forecasting the Day Zero date.

The day after Day Zero

The City’s apparent lack of preparedness for the day after Day Zero stems from its inexplicable lack of transparency. The limited information communicated thus far includes the following:

When the taps go off, residents will have to collect a predefined quantity of drinking water per person per day from approximately 200 sites collection sites across the city that will operate 24/7;

Residents will be able to collect 25 litres per person per day to be used for washing, cooking and personal hygiene;

Each site is expected to service up to 20 000 people per day;

The City’s Water and Sanitation Department will try to limit the impact on sanitation services to limit the risk of disease; and

SAPS and the National Defence Force are being consulted to help maintain law and order with law enforcement at collection points.

This doesn’t instil a whole lot of confidence, especially for the majority of Cape Town’s population who have only ever known the convenience of piped water, and are totally oblivious to the hardships of collecting water. Over and above this, many perfectly reasonable questions remain unanswered by city officials as established by GroundUp in their interview with Xanthea Limberg.

The inevitable shortage of parking at the water collection sites, the chaotic queues up to ten-kilometres long, the lack of IEC-style water collection registers and soaring daytime temperatures aside, how is everyone going to carry their 25 litre containers once they’re full of water?

Carrying 25 kilograms of water to your car, which could be parked up to a kilometre away, will be reserved strictly for the crazy, the bodybuilders and – one would hope – a swarm of wheelbarrow wielding entrepreneurs!

The fact is, post Day Zero, ‘free’ municipal water is going to be so inconvenient/impossible to get, that many people will be forced to buy it from private sources. And no doubt, the cost of privately supplied water is going to be sky-high.

All this inconvenience and exorbitant cost will only serve to fuel the pre-Day Zero frenzy to stockpile water.

How transparency and the IEC can rescue Cape Town

If the city is to avoid a ‘run on the taps’ scenario, then it needs to get serious about transparency. It needs to start by communicating its Day Zero plans in excruciating detail and possibly even running Day Zero rehearsals across the city.

Questions from the public need to be answered, valid concerns and shortcomings need to be addressed and, most importantly, the number of water collection sites needs to be at least tripled to be more in line with the number of election day polling stations – approximately 700 across Cape Town.

The Independent Electoral Committee’s (IEC) infrastructure should be used as a benchmark for water collection site locations and operation, as the IEC is the only entity that has proven its capability in facilitating (for voting) the entire adult population of Cape Town in a single day and, crucially, in an orderly fashion.

If people have as much confidence in the City’s water distribution post Day Zero as they do in IEC-organised elections, then growing panic leading up to Day Zero will be minimised and the Day Zero date possibly pushed out as a result.

Not only this, the people of Cape Town will be spared widespread anxiety, anger and anarchy on the day after Day Zero.

- Robert J. Traydon is a BSc graduate of Engineering and the author of ‘Wake-up Call: 2035’. He’s travelled to over 40 countries across six continents and worked in various business spheres. As a contrarian thinker, his articles explore a wide range of current affairs from a unique perspective.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

Read more on:    cape town  |  drought  |  water crisis
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