Cape Town, South Africa pushes back “Day Zero”

By Brennan Sullivan

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The Theewaterskloof Dam, the South African reservoir, once held 40 percent of Cape Town’s public water supply. Photo courtesy of the Daily Maverick.

Four million citizens of Cape Town, South Africa are preparing for the unprecedented and terrifying “Day Zero.”

“Day Zero” is the day that the Cape Town government will be forced to cut off the water supply to its residents’ homes and businesses. The nation of South Africa is experiencing one of its worst droughts on record, according to an article in National Geographic magazine. Cape Town’s primary water supply, the Theewaterskloof Dam, has been totally emptied in just a few short years.

The city’s executive deputy mayor, Alderman Ian Neilson, said in a statement released by the Cape Town government press office that the city is “striving to reduce average daily consumption to 450 million litres a day.”

Essential facilities such as hospitals will continue to receive water. All non-essential institutions will only get a mere 13 gallons per person, per day. Once “Day Zero” arrives, Cape Town citizens will have to line up at a local water station that is guarded by armed security to get their daily ration of 6.6 gallons.

The severe drought that has struck South Africa has scientists studying the heatwave. Climatologists from the University of Cape Town suspected that climate change has had an effect on not only their city but other cities around the globe experiencing similar changes in average temperatures and rainfall, according to an article published by Aryn Baker in TIME Magazine.

Sustainability professor Graham Pickren said the drought’s severity may coincide with climate change. However, Pickren said he is not a climate scientist and that the drought may also be a result of natural variability.

“But, what we can say is that a drought like this is consistent with the overall big picture of climate change.” PIckren said. “In South Africa, models show higher temperatures, which means more evaporation from drinking water reservoirs, and less rainfall as a result of climate change.”

Pickren hoped the crisis in South Africa would spark conversations here in the U.S. about water sustainability moving forward.

“This event could and should spark a conversation about water here in the Great Lakes. But most Americans can’t find South Africa on a map and generally don’t pay attention to events on that continent,” Pickren said.

While the drought and the attempt to save water in Cape Town hasn’t made American headlines, the issue has sparked discussion in classes at Roosevelt.

Sustainability major Joe Ambat said that the rising issue of water conversation is something that will arrive on the United States’ doorstep sooner rather than later.

“History has proven that we only tend to act when things get really bad… I don’t think we are doing enough to protect our clean water supply,” Ambat said when asked if he thought the issue was moving in the right direction.

Criminal justice major Dan Simon said he is concerned about the people of Cape Town. Simon said that he has tried to put himself in their shoes and picture what it would be like to have such limited amounts of water.

“It’s hard to imagine having to live on so little and with the knowledge that in just a short time there could be even less, or no water,” Simon said.

Fortunately, “Day Zero” has not been moved forward. As more have monitored and studied the crisis, some are now saying doomsday may arrive closer to June 2018. Nonetheless, all the people of Cape Town can do until then is wait and try to adapt to their new way of life the best that they can.

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