In light of Cape Town’s water crisis, citizens stand united

As citizens of Cape Town, South Africa, continue preparing for Day Zero with the water crisis escalating, there is little to good news, save one. South Africans are uniting in efforts to put off Day Zero, ensuring it never comes.

But Cape Town is hardly alone in this challenge, with other cities such as Melbourne, Australia, and São Paulo. Brazil faced with critical water issues stemming from booming populations, drought, and improvements to water infrastructure that is not keeping up with the city’s growth – a worst case scenario for any urban manager, with systems for sanitation and potable water running dry.

And Cape Town’s emergency response measure, Day Zero, will be put into effect if available water in the city dams goes down to 13.5 per cent in order to conserve the resource. Water will not be piped to homes and businesses, and will only be trickle-fed to critical services such as hospitals. Residents of the metropolis would need to queue at communal water distribution points located across the city for a daily ration of 25 litres of water.


Unity in tough times

A research study conducted by a behavioural economist at the University of Cape Town (UCT) over the past three years on residents of Cape Town concerning water use behaviour gave some interesting results, according to the Climate News Network. Contrary to media reports of residents panic-buying and hoarding bottled water while installing water storage tanks at the likelihood of water being cut off from most of the metropolis, a startling level of cooperation surrounding efforts to conserve the Cape Town’s municipal water reserves, or “common pool resource” was found instead.

There were worries that residents with the means to set up storage tanks would fill them with water from the municipal system ahead of Day Zero, exceeding the current daily ration of 50 litres of water per person, and culminating in hefty fines or steeper bills. But in truth, the residents were coming together, united in their response to a number of measures the metropolis took to persuade people to lower their water use through education campaigns, rises in tariffs, and daily rationing, among others.

According to the Climate News Network, there was a reduction of almost 50 per cent in household use of water, falling from 540 litres per household a day in January 2015 to 280 litres in January 2018.

By comparison, Melbourne, which suffered during the “millennium drought”, took 10 years – 2000 to 2010 – to bring residential water use down by 40 per cent. Similarly, while California, United States (U.S.), did see a reduction of 63 per cent per person, it was from 1995 to 2016.

But according Martine Visser of UCT’s Environmental Policy Research Unit, the most interesting part of the study is that they found that wealthier Cape Town residents are doing their bit as well. Since 2015, they have reduced their water use to the equivalent of lower income households, who do not have much leeway to bring down their water consumption much further.

This sharp fall can be partly attributed to wealthier families indeed investing in wells, drilling boreholes, as well as installing water storage tanks, which have taken some of the demand off t he municipal supply. But it is also a result of individual efforts to curb water use and enact water reduction efforts.

But taken altogether, these efforts have pushed Day Zero back from its original date in April to early July. And by then, the winter rains may have returned to Cape Town, recharging its water supply.