Cape Town, South Africa, faces a major water crisis, but the city has managed to stave off Day Zero – that is, the day the city would actually run out of water completely – for the foreseeable future. Still, with “severe climate change looming, the city of 4 million will face a reckoning sooner or later,” writes climate expert Ashley Dawson, a native of Cape Town, in the Washington Post. “And it will not be alone.”
Cape Town’s water crisis – and the city’s response to it – has shown that planning for a drier future needs to be comprehensive, integrated and realistic, Dawson writes.
But Cape Town has also shown us that such crises can be successfully addressed.
Today, Cape Town residents are using nearly 50% less water than they were in 2015 and reductions are expected to continue, says Klaus Reichardt, CEO and founder of Waterless Co. “This water situation was thrust upon them and they had no one but themselves to address the challenge.” Residents were bombarded with media campaigns indicating Day Zero was soon to come. While the campaign was criticized, all agree it worked, Reichardt says.
Because residents of the city have been so successful, and because the United Nations predicts two-thirds of the world’s population will be facing daily water shortage by 2025, water experts from around the world are now turning to Cape Town to see how residents made this happen.
Steps to Reduce Water Use
Reichardt says the following steps are being taken in Cape Town to postpone Day Zero:
Virtually every public restroom in Cape Town now uses water-saving aerators, hand sanitizers instead of soap and water for hand washing, high-performance toilets, and waterless urinals.
Most restaurants use disposable utensils and cardboard chinaware to eliminate dishwashing. Pasta dishes are rarely served because they require too much water, and vegetables are steamed rather than boiled.
Small children bathe in outdoor buckets; excess water is used to irrigate gardens.
Bath plugs have been removed in residential and hotel bathtubs to discourage bathing.
Additionally, says Reichardt, driving a dirty car is now viewed as a badge of honor. “At one time, the one thing people would not give up was washing their car,” he says.
The city has taken other steps to reduce water use, as well, including fixing leaks and faulty systems free of charge – a critical element in water conservation as, globally, it is estimated that as much as a third of water supplies are lost due to leakage.
Then the Rain Came…
Cape Town also experienced significant rainfall in the last two months, driving dam levels up to nearly 43% full. As a result, the city is now in a stronger position than it was just months ago, and Day Zero is no longer expected to strike in 2019.