Lack of innovation worsens Cape Town water crisis

Since the realisation of the pending water shortage in the Cape Metropole, there is skepticism of demonstrable urgent and appropriate actions taken by the City of Cape Town (the City).

Even the enforcement of the current intervention of limiting daily portable water consumption is questioned especially in the informal areas and some townships around the City. It is a fact that some communities in informal areas like Joe Slovo use communal taps, which at times are left running causing this scarce commodity to be wasted. Also important is that there is continuous water violation in some of the non-formal areas like Dunoon – where the City does not enforce its bylaw on potable water use.

In December/January of 2016/17, the City suspended the usage of public showers in most of its beaches as a reaction to the water crisis. The City implemented the same decision in December/January 2017/18, cutting water in public beach showers across its jurisdiction. This does not demonstrate innovation by the City, instead it depicts the contrary, which worsens the water crisis especially, when bathers flock into the beaches only to leave with the sand all over them and being coerced (by this ill decision) to use more potable water at home and or hotels to wash themselves.

If the City had done its research, it would have connected sea-water into public showers to ensure that bathers leave the beaches clean enough to not use scarce potable water at home and hotels. It is acknowledged that connecting sea-water on to public beach showers would have had some financial implications unlike the self-invited devastating implications that we now face as Capetonians.

The absence of innovation by the City has led to the City Mayor announcing that Day Zero has been brought forward by a week. The imagination of this pending eventuality is difficult to comprehend and the likelihood of commotion it will cause among the citizens.

The consequences of this ill-decision is that bathers left various beaches with sand all over them to enter the various mode of transport warranting the over-use of portable water at home to bath and wash the vehicles. This avoidable error should have not been designed. Due to this decision, the quantity of potable water required for beach-related laundry increased because of sand. Clearly, lack of innovation has reversed the great work of collective responsibility of reducing potable water use.

In essence, the City misses the reality that it is small actions that count.

In December/January of 2015/16, various media outlets reported that over 200 000 people flocked to Cape Town beaches to cool themselves off. In December/January 2017/18, media reports on revelers descending to public swimming pools and beaches in Cape Town were noticeable. Though accurate numbers are difficult to obtain, if 200 000 people like in 2015/16 visited the beaches this festive season, it simple means the City coerced bathers to use over 17, 4 million litres of scarce portable water, which would have not been used should the sea-water had been connected to public beach showers.

The effects of climate change are real with the rainfall patterns proving to be extremely unreliable and unpredictable, while on the other hand, the heatwave continues to be the norm. This reality puts enormous strain to the available water in the City’s dams, hence thinking hats for the City are required to ensure that simpler and non-expensive actions are actioned like suggested in this article.

Judging by the pending outcry when Day Zero comes, it is recommended for the City to pilot this proposition on busy beaches such as Strandfontein, Monwabisi, Muizenberg, Hout-Bay, Camps-Bay, Bloubergstrand, Clifton, Melkbosstrand and Lagoon. In the medium to long term, this intervention together with the drilling of underground water and possible desalination would make a significant difference.

The City also needs to urgently take a leaf from the Arab countries in the North Africa and Middle East, where terrain is harsh yet innovation on potable water ensures that the public has access to this life-sustaining commodity.

Nelson Mandela once said, "It always seems impossible until it's done". 

Moses Mncwabe is a former student of university of Stellenbosch, UKZN and Zululand. He is employed as a researcher and is based in Cape Town. He is passionate about community development issues including education and health.

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