Sarah Grace Goolden
Cape Town, a port city and capital of South Africa, has been in a drought for the last three years. “Day Zero,” the predicted point when their government will turn off faucets and completely control the distribution of water, has been pushed back from April to June 4. Currently residents are allotted 50 liters (a little over 13 gallons) of water per day per person. Following Day Zero, their rations will be cut in half and distributed from one of 200 stations.
For most people, water is a luxury that is taken for granted. The U.S. Geological Survey’s Water Science School estimates that most citizens in first world countries use around 80-100 gallons of water a day. To put this crisis into perspective, a five minute shower uses 45 liters of water, almost the entirety of a days supply in Cape Town currently.
Everyday tasks such washing your hair or doing laundry is limited to help conserve as much possible. A campaign poster offering “water-saving tips” suggested limited shower time to 90 seconds. With the decline of hygiene, sickness is ravaging the city, threatening the entire population and surrounding cities.
Cape Town relies on Western Cape’s Big Six Dams for their water supply. Day Zero would start when then these major dams fall below 13.5 percent capacity. At 10 percent, the water is no longer drinkable.
The reason why this drought is so bad in comparison to their previous years is a matter of both environment and politics.
Cape Town has experienced a surge in population, which increases the demand for water. Despite the city’s best efforts to reduce usage, the record-setting lack of rainfall is drying up their reservoirs more than they assumed. Paired with their drier and hotter weather, the city is declaring this drought to be a natural disaster.
The national government is in charge of water allocation and are being accused of funnelling too much of their supply to agriculture, even after the drought began in 2015. Forty percent of the Western Cape’s water supply were used in sustaining crops and livestock. The prioritization of these things over human beings call the ethics of the Department of Water and Sanitation. Despite the city’s best efforts to conserve the available resources, Day Zero is approaching, with no help from the national government.
Water is a necessity and it is the country’s duty to take care of its citizen. The situation in Cape Town is an example of poor priorities and selfishness.
It is possible that, if resources had been correctly managed, citizens would not have had to restrict their water usage and therefore prevented the health complications that follow. The national government, by choosing to ignore their residents, has to accept their role in the subsequent results.
The South African Water Caucus, a network of 20 organizations active in the water sector, revealed the dysfunction regarding the Department of Water and Sanitation. They claimed based on public information provided by the Parliamentary Questions and Answers that the government greatly miscalculated this dry spell.
Yet, the government is also are facing debt, financial mismanagement and possible corruption. The department does not have any funding dedicated to next year, forcing provincial government to take care of the cost.
The drought in Cape Town was caused by lack of rainfall and is arguably inevitable. However the lack of preparation has exasperated the situation to the point where citizens are struggling to make do every day.
Those who have the money have left the area. This leaves the poor, disabled and elderly to remain in the city and struggle through the drought.
Those in charge of allocation need to realize the devastation created by limiting water. Tourists have stopped coming in, which was previously a huge source of income. Hygiene is plunging as citizens opt to save water and neglect washing their hands and showering.
South Africa is suffering from the largest outbreak of listeriosis, a food poisoning that can complicate pregnancy. Places experiencing a shortage of clean water are more susceptible to water-borne diseases, like cholera and giardia. Restricting water usage directly affects the health and safety of that city.
A government that thinks there is something more important than making sure it’s citizens, including those that are not physically or financially able to leave, are safe does not have the right priorities in mind. The dangers of a drought-ridden city are so much more than just not having water and everything that can be done to prevent Day Zero should be done.
To neglect the needs of an entire population of people is an abuse of resources. The drought itself is factor of the environment but if money had been properly set aside in anticipation, it is possible the worst of it could have been avoided.