April 12th is “Day Zero” For Cape Town, South Africa

A major metropolitan city is running out of water.


Airports around the world have taken to using their wide open bland spaces to showcase their countries culture through art installations.

At Singapore Changi International Airport airport, animated art displayed with the use of computer technology keeps your eyes occupied as you make your way through the airport. At Los Angeles International Airport, a folded paper art installation threatens to captivate your attention long enough such that you have to switch from walking to running so as not to miss your flight.

These installations are designed to inspire, to educate or to alert you to a crisis either that particular country or city is facing. The installation at Cape Town’s International Airport falls in the latter category.

The installation consists of 87 one-liter bottles hanging from the ceiling. It would be an inspiring piece of art if not for the significance of the 87 one-liter bottles.

The bottles represent the amount of water all residents including temporary visitors are restricted to using per day because of the severe water crisis the city is currently facing.

Cape Town is the second most populous city in South Africa. Johannesburg is the first. 3.74 million people call it home and on April 12th the water taps will be turned off if things remain as they are.

Aprill 22nd which happens to also be Earth Day was the original “Day Zero” for the water turn-off, but officials have been forced to move up the date as the situation worsens and calls to minimize personal water usage go largely unheeded. Also starting February first, the 87 liter (23 gallons) per day restriction goes down to 50 liters (13 gallons) a day.

If negative conditions persist and the overall level of usable water in the dams drops to 13.5 percent residents will have to line up at one of 200 collection points that have been set up to collect water. The collection points will be guarded by the police and the army. Residents will be limited to 25 liters (6.5 gallons) of water per person, per day.

In response to the looming crisis, four new desalination plants are under construction in and around Cape Town. Unfortunately, three are running behind schedule. It is unlikely that any of them will be ready by “Day Zero.” Desalination ships are also being prepared and the city is also looking into groundwater extraction.

Capetown’s water crisis is being linked to climate change, drought, population growth, poor infrastructure and, politics.

With regards to population growth, Kevin Winter, a lecturer in Environmental and Geographical Sciences at the University of Cape Town points out that since 1995, the city’s population has grown 79%, from about 2.4 million to an expected 4.3 million in 2018. Dam storage, on the other hand, has increased by only 15%.

Drought conditions which are being attributed to climate change have persisted for three years. The result is that the amount of rainfall received into the six big dams that feed the city’s’ water pipes has been erratic and below usual amounts.

“We have to acknowledge that carbon dioxide is finding its way into the atmosphere and has reached a new high,” Winter said. “This is a global system, so the bigger systems are beginning to impact us … there is no doubt that pressure and temperature are related. So disturb the temperature, you disturb the pressure and you start to see different systems operating.”

Politics between the African National Congress (ANC)-controlled national government and the Democratic Alliance (DA) which control the city and surrounding Western Cape province is also said to have contributed to the crisis.

It is said that politics caused repeated calls to declare the Western Cape a disaster zone to go unheeded. Doing so would have allowed them to receive emergency drought relief funding that could have hastened preparations. Lack of coordination between the city government and the national government on water management policies is also attributed to politics.

The water crisis is affecting some in a positive manner. Rainwater-tank suppliers and borehole companies are unable to keep pace with the demand from residents who wish to avoid having to depend on the government for their water needs.

For example, Massmart Ltd.’s building supply chain Builders Warehouse, which sells the tanks, and driller De Wets Water & Boreholes both have six-month waiting lists.