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What we can learn from Cape Town's drought


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Water is something we all take for granted. Life depends on water no matter where you are in the world.  Drinking, cleaning, agriculture, washing and industrial production, as well as many more everyday activities, rely on the precious element.

 Cape Town

Image Credit: 12019 on Pixabay

By 2025, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), 'two-thirds of the world’s population may face water shortages'. Although water covers 70% of the earth's surface, only 3% of that figure is made up of fresh water. With cities drying up and environmental crises sweeping over continents, ingenuity alongside strong policy-making is the only way we can even begin to tackle these challenges. Here's how Cape Town did it.

In early 2018, South Africa was confronted with an extreme water shortage in the state of the Western Cape. Fear increased as the date for Day Zero was announced. The Guardian described Day Zero as 'the apocalyptic codename for the moment when water systems across the city would be switched off'. The city leapt into action.

Speaking to The Guardian, Dr. Kevin Winter from the University of Cape Town Water Task Team revealed that, "We reduced water use, virtually by 200 million litres per day."

Over the last 5 years an extreme government programme, derived out of the necessity to survive, has diverted the situation away from disaster. Now, Cape Town's reactionary policies are being used as a blueprint to other cities facing similar issues.

Why did the drought take place?

South Africa’s drought occurred due to a clash of factors, one of which was three years of low rainfall, which many argue is the result of climate change, increasing population demand and scorching summers. Day Zero (when the six-dam reservoir levels would fall below 13.5% ) was originally predicted to fall on the 11th of May 2018, yet this was narrowly avoided and pushed back.

This was not due to heavy rainfall, but instead the policies and regulations which the state implemented. In the affected regions this included a limit of 50 litres of water allowed per person per day. Additionally, compliance was maintained with a culture of surveillance and shame; such as online water consumption map which could be used to check on neighbours' level of use.

Although Cape Town has avoided disaster for now, many other countries are also at threat, with the real cause of the problem not being addressed. In order to truly avert worldwide disaster we must sort the issue at the very core of our problems: climate change. 

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