As the taps run dry, are Capetonians being done in?

Theewaterskloof dam
Theewaterskloof dam

Capetonians are nice people. They don’t seem to be angry. With around 100 days left before the taps run dry, the city may well become the first major city (certainly coastal one) to run out of water.  

The residents’ attitude is a brilliant one.

I think.

But I do wonder if a little outrage earlier on would have motivated alternative solutions.

We spent a few weeks over December in the Mother City. It was remarkable. Aside from being one of the most beautiful cities in the world Capetonians seem to have taken the difficult reality in their stride. They have adapted their homes, they report leaks immediately, they are acutely aware of each wasted drop, and from what I observed, they do this without resentment.

When we were there, residents (and visitors) were being asked to use no more than 87 litres per day.

I am not even sure that I could manage my daily coffee requirement on that. Let alone everything else.

Dam levels in Cape Town have dropped and are now at 29.7%. This might not sound terrible but water is usable until just under 20%. The drought has also cost the City of Cape Town around R1.6 billion in direct revenue alone as a result of decreased water consumption. One has to wonder what impact this will have on the city.

Also worth noting is that Cape Town is using close to 580 million litres per day but can only really afford 500 million if Day Zero is to be avoided.

Plans for additional water includes drilling for more accessible water as well desalination plants at the V&A Waterfront, Monwabisi and Strandfontein, but it is unclear when these hope to come online.

It certainly doesn’t appear to be in the next 100 days.

What is clear is that the situation should not have deteriorated to this point. Cape Town should not be in this predicament and the residents of the city should not have been asked to endure that which is asked of them. As visitors we had the comfort of knowing that we would soon be returning to a city with water but residents of Cape Town are staring down a very dry barrel. And that is frightening.

What makes matters worse is that there are multiple environments around the world that receive less rain that Cape Town does, and yet manages on what little water they have.

And it’s not even clear why this happened. Fingers are being pointed at central government – The Department of Water and Sanitation – who apparently allocated too much of the resource to agriculture. Given a recent statement that they are going to be sending representatives to Cape Town in the “next two weeks” they seem to lack the care. Or at least an understanding of the severity or urgency of the situation.

Fingers are being pointed at the DA who have their own internal issues with Mayor Patricia de Lille, and who perhaps could have done more to get government to react. At the end of the day, it matters naught because it seems that all that is to be done now is to conserve what little water there is and to pray that the rains will avert the day that the taps are set to run dry.  

A scary and unscientific approach if ever there was one.

It is almost impossible to imagine a city without water. Businesses and enterprises will not be able to function, hygiene will be severely compromised and each day will become a hardship. The thought of residents waiting in line with buckets for a daily water allocation is horrific. There is little doubt that additional security will be required as residents compete for what little resource remains.

The Cape Town drought is the storyline of a bad movie, and yet as the city slips into double digits away from the day the taps run dry, this horror might well become a reality.

100 days is not a long time. April is not far away. I believe that it is time to start seeing some real and tangible Day Zero scenarios and plans. There needs to be daily updates, clear communication and accountability. It is not enough to simply tell residents to consume less. The DA needs to make this their focus and they need to hold central government to account.

It’s the very least that they can do for the people of Cape Town.

- Feldman is the author of Carry on Baggage and Tightrope and the afternoon drive show presenter on Chai FM.

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