What Will Happen On 'Day Zero' When Cape Town Runs Out Of Water?

Day Zero is fast approaching for the people of Cape Town, which will be the moment they run out of useable water. The South African city has been on a collision course with disaster due to declining fresh water availability and if current trends continue, that day will come in mid-May.

It's when the reservoir system falls below 13.5 percent, which is when the water becomes undrinkable.

Since the start of the year, the city has imposed strict tariffs on water use and encouraged residents to use just 50 litres per day. While that sounds like a lot, it's only one toilet flush, 90-second shower, one laundry machine wash and a few more litres here and there for cooking and cleaning.

According to CC Water, the average person in the UK uses roughly 149 litres per day.

It was initially thought Day Zero would be mid-April, but thanks to some tough water restrictions embraced by the agriculture industry, Armageddon has been postponed for another month. City officials are hoping the situation will be eased in May when rain is expected, however nothing is certain in this day and age.

Credit: PA
Credit: PA

A press release adds: "We have been working hard to reduce demand through advanced pressure management, massively ramping up the installation of water management devices at high consumption households.

"Our teams are also significantly intensifying the leak detection and repair programme, and we are rolling out education and awareness campaigns and extending our use of the treated effluent system which offsets the use of the drinking water for non-potable purposes."

But What Happens When This Day Comes?

Officials have identified 200 distribution points across the city where residents will have to go to collect water. Each person will be allowed 25 litres per day and it will be free. It's expected there will be a heavy police presence at these sites to ensure riots don't break out and citizens take more water than they're entitled.

This will be Phase 2 of the city's contingency plan and is ominously titled the Disaster Stage. While it will be a big disruption to normal life, essential services will not be affected.

Credit: Cape Town City
Credit: Cape Town City

Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille says: "Strategic commercial areas, high-density areas with significant risk of increased burden of disease and fires (such as the majority of informal settlements), and critical services (such as hospitals), where possible, would continue to receive drinking water through normal channels."

Phase 3 sounds more like a dystopian horror film as it's called Extreme Disaster Phase. It means 'complete supply infrastructure collapse' and the only water to be given out will be for drinking.

De Lille adds: "The severity and duration of this drought could not have been predicted. As a City, we are managing the situation with absolutely every drought intervention that we have at our disposal."

Reservoir levels are getting critically low. Credit: PA
Reservoir levels are getting critically low. Credit: PA

In another attempted bid to stave off the effects of water restrictions, a temporary desalination plant will hopefully be switched on next month. That facility converts salt water, derived from the South Atlantic Ocean, into fresh drinkable water.

Football matches will be moved to the city's near 30 artificial pitches however it's unclear whether other sporting codes will have to postpone or move their games out of the city.

How Did Cape Town Get Here?

There's no denying the region has been hit hard by a severe drought for the last three years. The rising population has also played a role in the declining reservoirs levels, with more than four million people now living in Cape Town.

However there have also been claims levelled at the government for not doing enough to circumvent this situation.

David W Oliver, a postdoctoral research fellow at the Global Change Institute at the University of the Witwatersrand, told the Conversation: ""Had systems in national government been running smoothly, Cape Town's water crisis could have been mitigated.

"Appropriate water allocations would have made more water available to Cape Town. And with timely responses to disaster declarations, water augmentation infrastructure could have been up and running already.

"Cape Town shows some of the best water saving levels in the world. But its supply dams are being hit by national government's bungled water allocations to agriculture."

Is The Issue Spreading?

Unfortunately, this isn't an issue confined to Cape Town.

According to Straits Times, alarm bells have been ringing in the Eastern Cape, specifically Nelson Mandela Bay, with water restrictions now in place due to falling dam levels.

Credit: PA
Credit: PA

Roughly 70 to 75 percent of South Africa's maize belt, in the country's northwest, has been hit hard by drought-like conditions. While there are predictions rain could provide some much needed relief for residents in the next few months, again, nothing is certain.

Major cities all around the world could soon see themselves in a similar situation to Cape Town due to climate change and inefficient water saving practices.

EcoWatch says Tokyo, Miami, London, Cairo, Sao Paulo, Beijing, Mexico City and Bangalore are all in the firing line to run out of water.

Whatever happens in Cape Town by the middle of this year might serve as the catalyst to those cities and others struggling with water conservation to get their acts together.

Sources: CC Water, City of Cape Town, iol, Straits Times, Reuters, EcoWatch

Featured Image Credit: PA

Stewart Perrie

Stewart Perrie is a Trending Journalist at LADbible. His first job was as a newsreader and journalist at the award winning Sydney radio station, Macquarie Radio. He was solely responsible for the content broadcast on multiple stations across Australia when the MH17, Germanwings and AirAsia disasters unfolded. Stewart has covered the conflict in Syria for LADbible, interviewing a doctor on the front line, and has contributed to the hugely successful UOKM8 campaign.

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