Water restrictions are being tightened as much as possible by the government in Cape Town after claims that the water supply could run out in just a few months were made public. After over three years of what is known as an “extensive drought,” officials say residents are gearing up for “Day Zero,” which is expected to be April 21.
If the new restrictions put in place are not followed, and if enough rainfall doesn’t happen soon, South Africa’s largest city could be the first major developed city to run out of water. Not only is the region running out of water, but with little help from climate change and a rapidly growing population, Cape Town’s drought is the worst the region has seen in over a century.
The new restrictions
On February 1, the new restrictions have been laid out by officials will go into effect. Officials have cut back the daily allowance of water for residents from 23 gallons per day to just 13.2 gallons. Back in October 2017, residents were also asked to limit their showers to two minutes and to limit the use of appliances like dishwashers and washing machines. The city has also banned water usage for washing cars and filling swimming pools.
“For people that are used to the luxury that Cape Town promises, this has come across as a rather drastic measure,” says Pumza Fihlani, a BBC correspondent in Johannesburg. “People are reusing some of the water that they’ve used in other areas and finding other uses for it around the household. This means limiting the amount of water you drink, limiting the showers that you take.”
According to city officials, past restrictions have been ignored, which has only added to the current drought problem. Mayor Patricia de Lille said last week that more than 60% of residents are using too much water and threatened them with fines.
“We can no longer ask people to stop wasting water. We must force them,” the mayor told reporters. She also said that “Day Zero” was moved up one day already due to the overuse of water after restrictions were put in place.
Officials tried to shame residents into using less water by posting an online map to track water consumption in different parts of the city. Devices were also installed to reduce water pressure and volume, but to little avail.
What will happen on “Day Zero”?
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), tighter restrictions will be put into place after April 21. Residents will have to line up at one of the 200 distribution centers in Cape Town to receive 6.5 gallons of drinking water. This is the minimum amount of drinking water per the WHO guidelines.
Some experts say that the poor infrastructure in Cape Town has played a major role in the severity of the drought. Fihlani says city planners failed to anticipate that the city’s six dams, which are sourced by rainfall, would run out of water as drought worsened and the population grew. According to The Los Angeles Times, Dam levels have dropped to 15.2 percent capacity of usable water, down from 77 percent in Sept. 2015.
“Not enough dams have been built over the time that the population has grown and infrastructure has remained the same and that’s why the city now finds itself in the position that it’s in,” Fihlani says.
Despite warnings since 2004, local government officials are criticizing South Africa’s national government for its slow response to the crisis. Per The Los Angeles Times notes:
Western Cape Premier Helen Zille and provincial authorities have accused the national African National Congress government of failing to build and maintain new infrastructure and send adequate emergency drought relief. It was not until August that the national government allocated the city $1.5 million to deal with the crisis.
Desalinization efforts and groundwater extraction projects are still in the early stages, says Fihlani. “A number of these projects need money,” she says, “and it’s not clear that the city will have enough time to raise the money that they need to fund these rather ambitious projects.”