A drought beyond no return


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The Olifants River in South Africa nearly empty in 2015.

Cape Town is on the cusp of becoming the world’s first major city to run out of water in the midst of a three-year-long drought.

As of Feb. 1, Cape Town is 70 days from shutting down its city taps due to the critical drought that will make it more difficult to fetch water for every day use.

Cape Town’s government is referring to May 11, 2018 as “Day Zero,” up almost a month from April 16, 2018 last week—with thanks to the decline in agricultural water use.

As the clock struck 12 a.m. wringing the new year, the city of Cape Town implemented level six water restrictions that includes fines for excessive water use and the prohibition of watering gardens and agricultural crops and washing vehicles with drinking water. Now, level 6B water restrictions are in effect, leaving a daily limit of approximately 13 gallons of water per person.

Oil Pollution Consultant John Standing Bear in Cape Town notes an unresolved issue within the South African and Cape Town governments.

“The seeming lack of preparedness […] to minimize the effects of this drought are because of political differences,” Standing Bear explained through an email interview. “The best thing [Capetonians] are able to do for ourselves is to not rely on the city for water.”

To be proactive about the current water crisis, Standing Bear created systems to make his household “water-wise”—or water efficient—since 1997.

If the city’s water supply does run out on Day Zero Capetonians will have to make their way to any of the 200 water collection sites spread out through the city where they will be able to receive their daily ration of drinking water.

Skyline College English Professor Jessica Powers is no stranger to South Africa having spent a number of years in Cape Town and obtaining a Master’s Degree in African History from Stanford University. Powers reflects on her most recent trip to South Africa and Cape Town in particular.

“At the time, they were experiencing (a) drought but they hadn’t but any water restrictions into place,” Powers said. “(I was) there in the rainy season and it wasn’t raining.”

With an upcoming trip to South Africa planned for early-March, she plans on adhering to the water restrictions. Further, she feels privileged to be able to witness the hardship while on the trip.

“It’s really important for people on the outside to see realities [like what’s happening in Cape Town].”

But how will the water restrictions affect the diverse socioeconomic classes throughout Cape Town? Lifelong Cape Town resident Izak De Vries replays information from the City of Cape Town.

“The City of Cape Town has wisely indicated that water [in] the poorer areas would [be] the last to be cut off, if ever,” De Vries said. “The poor use less water and are less likely to obtain water from other sources.”

Further, De Vries added, “I can get into my car and drive a few hundred miles to collect more water for my family.”

Although “Day Zero” has been delayed almost a month, there’s only so much Capetonians in tandem with their government can do to defeat the water crisis. And an upcoming dry rainfall season is definitely not going to help.