Cape Town residents gear up to face water scarcity disaster as Day Zero nears

Sunilchandra Dal
Saturday, 3 March 2018

WHAT IS DAY ZERO?
 Day Zero is when dam storage will be crucially low at 13.5 per cent. This is when the city will turn off all taps.
 From Day Zero, the city residents will have to collect water at from the collection sites.
 Despite being called ‘Day’ Zero, the emergency state lasts for months until water level is restored.

Cape Town is facing a crisis, which some experts think is because of climate change. This city of 40 lakh in South Africa is preparing for Day Zero, the day when the city will have no water supply and taps run dry. Day Zero is expected on July 9, 2018, when officials plan to start distributing water rations at 200 collection points in the city.

Cape Town has seen droughts for three years in a row. According to Reuters, Cape Town was able to push back Day Zero from June 4 to July 9 by lowering water usage. The city’s Deputy Mayor, Ian Neilson, said the city’s water consumption was lowered to 523 million litres per day (MLD). In addition, a farmers’ association released 10 billion litres of water from their private reservoirs into a storage dam for Cape Town.

There is a possibility that if usage is cut down and it rains on time, Zero Day may not materialise. However, nobody is willing to take chances.

“We anticipate that Day Zero could move back into June again unless we are able to meet the 450 MLD collective water usage target,” warns Neilson.

South Africa has declared a national disaster over the drought-afflicted southern and western regions, including Cape Town.
In Cape Town, it is compulsory for residents to use only 50 litres per person per day. Contrast this with the estimate by the Bureau of Indian Standards that a minimum water supply of 200 litres per capita per day (lpcd) should be provided for domestic consumption in cities with full flushing systems. 

Michael Best of 9news.com.au says residents told him that the 50 litres each person is allowed at present are enough for a 90-second shower, brushing teeth, one flush of the toilet, cooking and drinking. Residents use water collected at a natural spring to fill their washing machines. The dirty water from the washing machine is used to flush the toilet. Some residents use buckets while taking showers to reuse the water.

Best says the police are cracking down on ‘water cheats’ and imposing fines on them. Repeat offenders could face criminal charges. From Day Zero onwards, people would be given only 25 litres per person.

Residents fear chaos if Day Zero arrives. However, police and troops will be on the streets at filling stations to maintain order. If Day Zero arrives, the lack of flushing of toilets could spread diseases such as dysentery. There will be lack of hygiene because people would not be able to wash their hands. Dehydration and heat strokes are possible. 

According to Kimon De Greef, there is a political angle too. The city and province are both run by the opposition Democratic Alliance party, which is at odds with the national government led by the African National Congress. The city gets its water from the national Department of Water Affairs, which distributes the water among local municipalities and the agricultural sector. Both parties have blamed each other for poor planning leading to the crisis.

David Olivier, writing in The Conversation, says politics and not rainfall is at the heart of the problem.

He blames the ruling African National Congress, saying two tiers of governance - the Western Cape Province and the City of Cape Town - went beyond what was required to prepare for drought. The system failed at the level of national government.

He says wasteful expenditure in the national Department of Water and Sanitation, erroneous water allocations to agriculture and failure to respond to provincial and municipal calls for help obstructed timely interventions.

Once the crisis is over, Cape Town is expected to take several steps to prevent the crisis from happening again. This includes building several desalination plants and underground water reserves, measures which other cities could implement.

However, the most important principle that is universally applicable is likely to be judicious use of water, which should be 
applied by all.

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