Cape Town was on the edge of crisis, and then it wasn’t. Cape Town has delayed its water-shortage disaster—at least until 2019.
For months, the clock on the Cape Town Day Zero has counted down threateningly close—the day the drought-stricken city would eventually run out of water. But then in February of this year, it was deferred all the way to July. Recent developments have now pushed it to 2019, without a specific date. Does this mean the Cape Town Water Crisis has been averted?
How was Day Zero Calculated?
Calculating Day Zero took into account maximum evaporation (based on temperature and wind) and existing patterns in agricultural and urban use—an equation that considered both natural and man-made conditions. Avoiding Day Zero has been a combination of both human effort and good rain. It’s also why Day Zero remains an ever-present threat, albeit one further out on the horizon.
There are two important reasons behind Cape Town’s water crisis along with a combination of factors that includes climate change, poor infrastructure planning and, politicking in a contested region.
1. Rise In population
One of the major problems that led to the shortage of water was the population growth. Cape Town’s population has grown from 2.4 million in 1995 to 4.3 million people in 2018 but during this time the city has built only one major dam- the Berg River Dam, built in 2009. This has led to increasing storage, but only by 15%. This lack of focus on infrastructure has been blamed on politicking and personality politics.
2. Lack of water storage infrastructure
It is clear that water storage facilities in the area have much to be desired, yet the city denies that storage is a problem. The problem is not the storage; it’s that the water falling from the sky is not enough,” the water department’s Rashid Khan told radio station Cape Talk. “We have six dams. It’s enough. It’s about how to manage the water in the dams.”
As It Stands
With Day Zero now pushed out, water usage has increased and city authorities are warning that if more severe restrictions aren’t adhered to, Day Zero could soon become a definite date again. One way to keep usage in check is a proposed tariff increase of 27% for water usage, with pricing also tiered according to average water usage. For drinking water, the price could double, from 26 rand per kiloliter to 40 rand (from just under $2.10 to $3.20). There is already pushback against the increase, with business and residents’ association planning to oppose the hike.
For now, Cape Town’s winter rainy season has been heaven-sent, but scientists warn that this drier climate could be the new normal, a problem more difficult to solve than the water-use habits of the city’s inhabitants.