After 3 years of unprecedented drought, the South African city of Cape Town has less than 90 days worth of water in its reservoirs and, according to Time Magazine, putting it on track to be “the first major city in the world to run out of water.” What it means is that, on Day Zero (the exact day continues to be revised based on daily consumption of water, but currently it’s April 29th), the taps in residencies will be shut off and the citizens of Cape Town will be without water.
Receiving such shocking news that seemingly came out of nowhere, you must wonder, how did this all happen? Surely someone had seen some signs and warned the government to take action? The answer is yes and no. City planners have, “long pointed out that Cape Town’s water capacity hasn’t kept up with population growth, which has nearly doubled over the past 20 years,” but the severity of the drought was “once a millennium.” In 2014, the water level was at 87.9% full, but the number has been brought down to 25.8% in just 3 years and would hit even the most well-planned water systems (Baker, 2018). Now the Cape Town government is hastily trying to make amends, but the new changes and installations are unlikely to “go online” before Day Zero hits.
Now you must be wondering, what exactly defines Day Zero? Is it the day that the water in the city completely goes dry? What happens during and after Day Zero? Well, the answer to the first question is no, since Day Zero would, “mark the moment the Western Cape’s Big Six dams fall below 13.5 percent capacity” (Morris, 2018). Considering the fact that water is deemed no longer drinkable once it falls under the 10 percent line, the water supply at Cape Town is reaching a dangerously low level. As for what residents will do after Day Zero occurs, the answer is not “die of thirst” (surprisingly, I know). Once Day Zero approaches, the city will, “turn off the taps to the residential areas and all water would be limited to 25 litres per person distributed at checkpoints, monitored by the police or army, and within perimeter fences” (Morris, 2018).
As the first city to run “dry” in the course of human history, Cape Town provides a serious warning for other cities that also have already-low water supplies to quickly improve their water systems. Had Cape Town had more adequate government management, it may be far better than it is now. As for the distant (or maybe not so distant) future when Cape Town completely runs dry, we can only hope that the city officials have something in mind.
By: Jennifer Lo