Cape Town, South Africa is dangerously close to becoming the first city in the world to run out of water. “Day Zero,” a term coined by the Democratic Alliance, South Africa’s main opposition party, is predicted to arrive sometime between April and May. This is the day when the Theewaterskloof Dam — alone responsible for more than half of Cape Town’s surface water supply — will finally run dry, and the taps will officially turn off.
The cause of the scare is a severe lack of rainfall, the likes of which have never been seen in Cape Town’s history. For the last three years, annual rainfall has fallen below average. The ordinarily substantial rainfall during the winter season has fallen short by 55 percent, rainfall which the Western Cape area of South Africa heavily depends on. The below-average rainfall can be attributed to the El Niño phase of the ENSO, or El Niño-Southern Oscillation, a warm fluctuation in atmosphere and sea-surface temperature in the Pacific Ocean which have large-scale effects on global weather and climate, including reduced rainfall in the southern part of Africa, according to South Africa’s Department of Environmental Affairs.
As of now, each adult in Cape Town is using around 21 gallons of water a day on average. That’s almost double the government recommended amount, which is only 10.5 gallons used to shower, cook, drink, and use the restroom every day. Many residents have begun reusing water when clean water isn’t absolutely necessary, like when flushing the toilet, or forgoing water use altogether, choosing not to wash their hands in order to conserve. This has led to a sharp increase in the risk of disease, and health officials claim there will especially be a rise in water-borne illnesses, such as cholera, hepatitis A, and typhoid fever. The lack of hygiene will also bolster the spread of listeriosis, a disease which primarily affects pregnant women and newborns, which is already experiencing its largest outbreak on record.
While the threat of becoming the first city to run out of water looms on the horizon, there are a few reasons for optimism. New tariffs have increased the price of water in Cape Town, with an incredibly sharp increase in prices for those households which use over 11,000 gallons a month. The agriculture sector’s water supply will be lowered from 30 percent to 15 percent in March and 10 percent in April, in compliance with South Africa’s National Department of Water and Sanitation. Cape Town is slowly becoming less reliant on its dwindling reservoirs and has started using aquifers, desalination plants, and water recycling facilities as alternative sources. Most importantly however, residents of Cape Town understand the severity of the crisis. As the #DayZero hashtag snakes its way through social media, South Africans are preparing for either the day of reckoning or a very close call. Either way, Cape Town, South Africa will very soon be making headlines, as well as history.
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