Drought: learning from others’ mistakes
When Cape Town Mayor Patricia de Lille addressed the Cape Town Press Club recently she gave her audience a little insight into what the dreaded Day Zero would be like if or when the Mother City’s water supplies run out.
The population of Cape Town – the country’s second-largest city and Africa’s most popular tourist destination – has grown rapidly over the past two decades and is now more than 3.75 million people.
But infrastructure for the provision of water has not expanded. Making matters worse, this is the second year in a row of the Western Cape’s most severe drought in recent history – confirming all the predictions of imminent climate change.
De Lille told a riveted assembly of mainly middle-class Capetonians that it had been anticipated that Day Zero would be May 20 – but now it will probably arrive a week sooner because a day of rain the previous week had joyful Capetonians splurging on deep baths and long showers.
“What you did last week was that you moved Day Zero to May 13th, one week earlier,” she admonished.
Turning to what will actually happen on Day Zero, she said: “That will be when our dam levels reach 13.5%. On that day… we will turn off the taps and we will have 200 water sites around the City of Cape Town, where each person must go and collect water and you will get 25 litres per person per day.
“That amount of water is what the World Health Organization has prescribed as the minimum. The points will be open 24 hours, seven days a week and we will ensure essential services like clinics have water.”
However, taps will not be turned off in the city’s 230 informal settlements which account for about 3-4% of water usage. These areas will have reduced water pressure but there will still be water in the taps.
“The risk of turning off taps completely in densified areas is that it can cause a health risk or can lead to a disease outbreak. There can also be riots,” De Lille said.
The mayor sounded the warning that “the days of abundance are over”. But she was confident, that, through the city’s “working around the clock”, Day Zero could be avoided.
During question time, a journalist who had quickly done a few sums, asked a perturbing question: “We are a city of approaching four million people, and will be serviced by 200 water points. That’s 20,000 people a day (at each water point). Surely that means that riots are likely. Is it not possible to get more water points?”
In reality, fewer than half that number are adults capable of queueing and carrying away the required weight of water for a family, but the problem remains.
De Lille’s response: “But that will be 24 hours a day, seven days a week. “The water points that we have selected – and we are still mapping them across the city – must be close to a water connection site that can take (the traffic),”she said. “We are still looking at spreading them out.”
One woman put up her hand and stated, agitatedly: “I live in Newlands… not far from Spring Street, where more and more people have been fetching water from the spring. The road is fully blocked every day. Nobody can get in. Now and then the police come and try to help people get in and out of the road. People double-park, builders are coming with buckets.
“Have you made allowances for parking for all the cars that will be driving to these water points? (Try carrying a 25-litre container of water!)”
To which De Lille replied that she has her eyes on sports grounds and other big communal sites. But, how will the city manage those crowds if Day Zero does come upon us?
And what about next year, and the years after that? And the gardens? The factories? Farming areas around the city?
Drought could have as devastating an effect on Cape Town as hurricane floods have had on Houston and New Orleans. They, too, ignored all the warnings.
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