The South African Water Crisis

By, Alison Poussaint

How would it feel to know that the water used to drink, bathe, and fuel in your state or country will soon run out?

The product of  climate change, the worst drought in Cape Town history, and a growing population of four million people, “Day Zero,” the day by which Cape Town, South Africa will run out of water, soon approaches. Officials have anticipated “Day Zero” for months, first predicting that water would run out by April 1st. Now, they have adjusted the projected date to May 11th.

Cape Town authorities are cracking down on the public’s usage of water as a means to stave off the imminent “Day Zero” for as long as possible. It is now illegal to use water to wash cars, hose down areas, fill up swimming pools, and water gardens. Citizens are required to take no longer than two minute showers, drain their pools, and flush their toilet as few times as possible. As of February 1st, officials enforce that citizens use less than 13.2 gallons of water per day, an amount that stands in stark contrast to the previous limit of 30 gallons. Some wealthier citizens refuse to cut down their water usage; they agree to pay for the extra water they are using.

Many citizens worry about how “Day Zero” will affect them. According to NBC, Cape Town resident Sitaara Stodel reflects, “I’m constantly thinking about running out of water and worrying about ‘Day Zero’….I’m even having nightmares about wasting water. The other day I had a dream that I took a long shower by mistake.”

The tourism industry is taking a hit as well. Officials recommend that hotels use saltwater as opposed to freshwater in their pools and alter their restaurant menus. In order to conserve water, restaurants have been ordered to steam vegetables instead of boiling and prepare pasta in ways that do not require the boiling of water. As a result, many tourists have also cancelled their vacations.

After “Day Zero” occurs, the Big Six dams’ water capacity will fall to less than 13.5%, and residents will only be able to use 6.6 gallons of water per day, meaning that most taps will be shut off. Authorities will establish 200 water collection sites across the country where residents can collect water.

African History teacher Mr. Braxton reflects on the crisis: “Access to clean drinking water is something we take for granted. I can’t begin to imagine how Day Zero will affect the residents of Cape Town.  This issue is a wake up call for all cities. I am sure the city leaders are asking the basic question: How did we end up here? Let’s make sure we are looking at this water issue too or we’ll find ourselves asking the same question!”

Twenty-three Winsor students and faculty will travel to South Africa during the first twelve days of March break. These students will experience some of the effects of the water crisis. “I think the trip will be a good opportunity for us to adopt the kind of water habits that may become standard practice worldwide.  Students will be forced to think deliberately about a resource that many of us take for granted,” Ms. Wolf reflects. As the trip nears, it will be interesting to see what students think about taking 2-minute showers and drinking fewer gallons of water per day.