Day zero: The bitter reality of losing water

By Venuri Gangodawila

According to Leonardo da Vinci, “Water is the driving force of all nature.” I guess that “Water” in its very word has got some power to soothe the whole world including the mankind, flora and fauna. But what if there comes a day when all of our water resources would run dry? Yes, it’s hard to even imagine what it would be like.

However this unfortunate incident is not too far away from the residents living in Cape Town in South Africa. This catastrophe of drying almost all of the water resources, simply known as the “Day Zero”, is slowly (not so slow) on the process of reaching Capetonians around the month of July in 2018.

Where in the world is Cape Town and what makes it significant?

As said above, Cape Town is the second largest city in South Africa. And has claimed a number one spot in the list of tourist attractions in the world. Encircled within a dramatic framework of mountains amounting up to seventy of them, where the “Table Mountain” is distinct. The journey to the Cape peninsula too is important here whilst there are famous and scenic beach strips around the city where it’s located facing the Northern Atlantic Ocean. Not only tourism, but also Cape Town can be identified as a major economic hub of Western Cape Province, bearing the title as the third main economic sub city of Africa.


What made this city to run dry?

This town fulfills its water requirement from about seven reservoirs which amounts up to roughly 898,000 megalitres. But unfortunately, Cape Town experienced a much worse condition of a drought since the year 2015 which is termed as the worst one since half a century. Although in earlier extreme weather conditions, the city has received rainfall after some time, filling the reservoirs, this time it has been different since Capetonions never received rain or even a little hope of a rain since 2015.

This has caused the major reservoir known as the Theewaterskloof to decrease its water levels below 13.5% of the total capacity which fulfills the exact condition for “Day Zero” to take place. To be exact, the water level of the above reservoir was only 13% of its total capacity by the month of January 2018 which might be even lower than that at present.

Not only has the prevalence of the drought brought these adverse conditions, but also the other factors too. Among them, the rapid growth of population stands out. According to the UN reports, by 2018, Cape Town consists of about 3.78 million people (nearly 4 million), which has obtained a growth rate of 2.57% over 10 years. Well that’s a vast growth. Also Cape Town being an employment hub, it has attracted a huge amount of immigrants which has aggravated the problem of the scarcity of water where the usage has increased by a large amount.

The other most important contributing factor to “Day Zero” to accelerate is, the rapid change of climate or the climate change in familiar terms. This issue of climate change has affected the whole world vastly since many years, in  which the Google defines it thus; “a change in global or regional climate patterns, in particular a change apparent from the mid to late 20th century onwards and attributed largely to the increased levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide produced by the use of fossil fuels.”

Well this disaster too has the roots of human participation where the use of fossil duels has been increased and the lack of proper measures to conserve scarce resources tops amongst them. If we consider the patterns of weather during the past years, we also are able to understand a changing paradigm. For example, even Sri Lanka which is blessed with the reception of an ample mount of rainfall, didn’t experience even a drop of rain since sometime which in fact has occurred droughts in the dry zone and a heavy increase of heat in the other climatic zones too.

If all of the above factors are taken into consideration, Cape Town’s water levels has drastically gone down and the citizens are met with great difficulties when fetching water for their daily needs. As Helen Zille, the head of the provincial government says, if the taps run dry, it would be “the disaster above all the disasters.”

The struggle

Starting from 1st of February, Capetonians were allowed to use only 50 liters per person, per day. Though 50 liters may sound a lot of water, it may not be enough for the average usage of a person. It can be really hard to survive with the knowledge that you’ve been limited to such amount of water. In the midst of this, Cape Town’s mayor Patricia de Lille states that “We can no longer ask people to stop wasting water. We must force them.”

This scarcity has forced the residents to wait in long queues to fetch water from an underground spring in St. James (a Cape Town suburb). Even though the residents are able to obtain water from the city supplies, the quality of the water is not favorable according to them, where some claims that their tap water ‘tastes funny’ and some complaining that their kids’ got ‘tummy issues’. And for some people the springs might be very far from their dwellings and if they are old, sick or disabled, may worsen the issue much more.

Amidst these, “those can afford water are queuing at stores before they open…. Clearing the stock of bottled water in just minutes” says CNN. Well, then what about the impoverished? They are unable to either leave the city or to buy water

The health problems

This is the most dangerous outcome of this Day Zero.  The limited usage of water for the sanitation needs of people heightens the possibility of spreading fatal diseases like hepatitis, diphtheria and typhoid which are spread through infectious bacteria and viruses. Apart from those, conditions like dehydration and heat stroke might affect the lives of residents, especially children, along with several skin infections.

After all, the extreme pressure on the residents would eventually lead them to mental confusions and violence because of the loss of patience and so on.

The other matters

The effect on economy and tourism belongs here. This adverse conditions affect the work life of people which it lowers the profits of businesses and people to lose their jobs leading to a major economic crisis.

When it comes to tourism, the tourists arriving at the city might be disturbed with problems of limiting water usage in which the reminders are put on everywhere possible to raise awareness about the issue. And mainly the swimming pools in hotels are closed and out of use to save water for essential purposes. Therefore the income through tourism might topple down.

The creativity game of city dwellers

This calamity has sprung up the creative sense of people living in Cape Town regarding saving water. Some residents use their gray water to flush toilets while some uses the waste water from their kitchens to tend to their plants. In fact the dwellers tend to collect water in any container which can hold it, even drums and flower vases don’t matter at all when it comes to the dire need of water. We certainly cannot blame them. And also the use of hand sanitizers which was once a ‘second thought’ has become an essential equipment in households. And to your little discomfort, unwashed hair can be a common sight there.

And the limitation of showers to 120 seconds has encouraged some musicians to compose “2 minutes shower songs” which is kinda funny and is also benefitting.

A spark of hope

Howbeit, the constant reminders of the government for the dwellers to limit their water usage and the intuitional concerns of people to save existing amount of precious water, has extended the date of Day zero. It was scheduled to be coming in early April this year but has extended its date to July, finally. This exact phenomenon has planted some hope in residents and governments that they perhaps be able to fight Day Zero. I guess that it’s a great achievement of Capetonians.

What does Cape Town’s crisis teach us?

Obviously to save water! This can be taken as a very mundane and an age old, traditional quote. But that means a lot. Even though we are taught that water is a renewable resource, it has limits too, such as peak constraints when it comes to usage. That is the exact condition which has affected Cape Town’s underground water where the maximum amount is nearly seized.

It’s time for us to ponder about our irresponsible acts wasting water. Whether it’s allowing the tap to run while you apply soap on your face or brushing your teeth, neglecting the running taps in public places, taking really long showers (well this depends and no offence!) or using a garden hose without a nozzle to shut the water supply may heavily affect the water content in the world as a whole because, “Thousands have lived without love, not one without water!”

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