While this blog hasn’t reflected it yet, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the drought and water crisis in Cape Town. Actually, lots of people have. The City’s predictions for the date for “Day Zero”, which is expected to come right around Earth Day, are frighteningly close. Even scarier are the City’s plans for what happens afterwards: taps turned off, water rations provided at centralized locations, police and national defense forces brought in to secure water stations and the city more generally. WWF South Africa is launching a new weekly pamphlet discussing details about conservation. It mentions some of the practicalities, such as dry toilet strategies and assisting the elderly with carrying water rations. This could go on for months, until there is enough water in the dams, or until the city’s desalination and borehole projects are completed. Honestly, it sounds like the setting for a Hollywood dystopian movie.
The cynic deep in me fears that a Day Zero type situation is the only thing that will lead to a radical readjustment in our urban water use. As long as the taps continue to run, and water appears to be a limitless and effortless resource, many people will act accordingly. Even people who are very water conscious can’t help but use water needlessly by virtue of being integrated into the larger water system. Our whole system, from the water and wastewater infrastructure, to urban design and architecture, to the toilets, showers, and sinks installed in our homes, were all built based on the premise that water would always be abundant. Changing that will take more than a few (or even lots) of individuals acting alone; it takes a societal shift in thinking about water resources.
And sadly, a deeper cynic in me doesn’t believe that even a Day Zero will change the ability of the wealthiest among us to avoid the consequences of this crisis and maintain wasteful habits. Those who can afford their own boreholes, who can afford to take a vacation somewhere else, or to skip visiting their summer home in Cape Town, won’t feel the impact in the same way that most Capetonians will. I anticipate that the gap in wealth in this country, which colors so much else, will also deeply affect how this crisis plays out.
More to come on this...