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Cape Town’s Water Crisis – How should we respond?

Cape Town’s Water Crisis – How should we respond?

Cape Town, a port city situated in a natural bowl to catch fresh rainwater, is the world’s first major city running out of water. It’s dam levels fell below 30 percent in the first week of this year and Capetonians are now waiting for the day zero, the day the City turns off the taps and residents will have to collect their daily 25 litre water ration at one of 200 public distribution points. And it’s not only Cape Town. Droughts are affecting peoples lives all over South Africa.

It is urgent to respond to this crisis, before more and more cities taps will run dry. The response to the water crisis should be contingent on whether we attribute this water crisis to climate change or if we just put it downs as a freak of nature. So firstly, it is important that people are aware about what mainstream media isn’t focussing on. The drought is not only a unique and unusual extreme weather event, but a consequence of global warming caused by man-made climate change. Of course, there will still be rainy winter seasons, but the average rainfall is declining and extreme weather events are more and more likely to happen in the years to come.

This means that we as people will have to change our relationship, attitude and habits towards water. Water is a vital element in each of our lives, not only is it essential to our health, but also needed for a numerous of household tasks. With rising water scarcity this source is becoming more and more precious and drinking water should only be used when it is absolutley necessary.

But we do not only have to change our individual attitudes as citizens and try to reduce our consumption, there needs to be infrastructural changes made by the national governments as well. Right now, the drought is being used as a political football with the ANC and DA playing the “it’s not us, it’s them” game, while in the meantime us, the people, will suffer and the situation will only get worse.

Capetonians are stockpiling water as “Day Zero” is coming closer.

How  should we and the government respond to the crisis and what mesures should be implemented?

1. We need to change our habits and the way we use water. We must act in a more water-saving and sustainable way in order to ensure that future generations will still have water.

2. There needs to be the immediate rollout of rainwater harvesting tanks at all public buildings, and subsidies for all households, ensuring that no water is being wasted. There is 3-4 times more rain falling down in Cape Town than is currently being used.

3. It is the national government’s responsibility to ensure all bulk water supply, even though the city could have managed this crisis better the buck stops at national governments.

  • National governments need to commit to developing the infrastructure for a national water pipeline providing water to areas that don’t have water from areas that have enough water.
  • Waste water reclamation should start immediately. Waste Water can be treated and through this, 60-80% of the water currently used could be produced. The technology for water reclamation is in fact the same as for desalination, but produces much more water, because it is easier to purify than salt water.
  • Storm water should no longer go down the drains but be harvested!
  • Alien plants, taking valuable water and space from our indigenous plants, should be removed. Especially in catchment areas and around dams alien vegetation uses a huge amount of water and the removal could assist the city to conserve water. In the catchment area above Wemmershoek Dam alone the saving would be approximately 1 million litres a day when all pine trees were removed.
  • Everyone with a borehole should declare it and stop the usuage for outdoor purposes in order to preserve groundwater resources.
  • Aquifers can be used, but this should happen with caution in order to prevent a too intensive extraction of groundwater, that has been there for million of years.
  • We need to challenge the permit allowing sewage water back into the sea.
  • The more water you use above the amount that’s required to live – the more you must pay. There should be no mercy with irresponsible consumers and fines should be even higher.
  • We need to start challenging big businesses on how they use water and for what.
  • Besides household’s taps running dry – farmers are under risk – we can expect food prices to soar. But at the same time winelands will continue to get their water because it’s important for “Cape Town’s Brand”. There shouldn’t be a prioritization of certain industries.

For more information about Cape Towns drought read “EMG’s guide to the Cape Town Drought” or listen to UCT lecturer Dr. Kevin Winter speaking about “Cape Towns Water: What does the future hold?” .

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