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What’s happening in Cape Town? What caused the water crisis?


By: Brittany Da Silva


Cape Town, the legislative capital of South Africa, is predicted to run out of water in May 2018. If this happens, Cape Town will become the first major city in the world to run out of water. With an estimated population of approximately 4.3 million people, a dangerously large number of people are about to lose their access to clean water. So, how did this happen?


Most of the water in Cape Town is supplied by six dams, which catch and store the rainwater that often falls during the cooler winter months from May to August. These dams must supply water to the city during the hot, dry summer months from December to February. Unfortunately, Cape Town has been suffering from a deadly drought since 2015, causing a major water shortage in the region. The city’s population has also been steadily rising over the past decade, while the capacity of the dams have not. This drought has now been deemed the worst to hit the city in over a century. Many scientists suspect that climate change is largely to blame, as weather patterns in the Western Cape province of South Africa are shifting rapidly.


Cape Town has been suffering from very dry winter seasons for the past three years, depleting the water levels in the city’s dams. Water restrictions have been in place throughout the city since 2005, with water consumption limits reduced each year. As of February 1, 2018, residents have been restricted to 50 litres of water per person, per day, risking hefty fines or water shutoffs if too much water is used. Water pressure has also been reduced throughout the city, with much less water coming from the taps than before. This is all in an attempt to conserve as much water as possible and avoid “Day Zero”, which is the predicted future date when the taps will run dry.


To put the current water restrictions into perspective, a 90 second shower will cost you about 15 litres of water, flushing the toilet will spend another 9 litres, and filling your dog’s bowl will add another. If the water crisis is not resolved soon, residents may be further restricted to a limit of 25 litres per person, per day. Many people who are in a position to do so are leaving Cape Town until the drought is over. However, there are many people who cannot. Those who are elderly, disabled, or lack the funds necessary to leave are stuck in a city that is slowly drying out. Stores can’t keep bottled water in stock for longer than a few minutes and it can take days to replenish their stock.


All water users, including commercial properties and businesses, must drastically reduce their water consumption in order to postpone Day Zero. Long-range forecasters in the area are having difficulties predicting what the future holds as far as rainfall, as climate change has rendered most historical models useless. In as little as three months, Cape Town’s reservoirs are predicted to get so low that the city will be forced to shut the taps off and it remains unclear if anything can be done to stop it from happening.

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