Cape Town’s water consumption crisis

Editorials Opinions

A scary reminder of the effects of global warming

Photo by Neil Tackaberry via Flickr

Cape Town, South Africa, may be one of the first industrialized cities in the world to begin rationing fresh water due to extremely low reserves. Without action on behalf of the citizens of Cape Town to drastically reduce water consumption, April 21 will mark what is now being called “Day Zero.” On Day Zero, Cape Town officials will shut off running water to houses, and will instead ration water from approximately 200 access points around the city.

Cape Town citizens are currently using an average of 87 litres of water per day, an unsustainable rate of consumption due to the fact that the city has experienced unprecedented droughts for the last two years, and water reserve levels are hovering at about a quarter of their capacity. The mayor of Cape Town, Patricia de Lille, has urged citizens to limit their consumption to approximately 50 litres a day.

If Cape Town reaches Day Zero, rations will be further limited to 25 litres a day. Which in total amounts to a 90-second shower, a large bottle of drinking water, and weekly laundry cleaning, if that. The city has resorted to consulting with law enforcement and army officials to draft a plan on how best to maintain order at collection points.

This may sound like the plot of a dystopian science fiction film, but these situations are likely only going to become more common throughout the world. As the earth’s climate fluctuates and humans continue to consume water at the same levels without exploring sustainable alternatives, Cape Town is only going to be the first in a long list of cities facing similar crises.

While this issue is currently garnering media attention around the world, this is the daily lived experience of many communities, including some here in Canada. For years, some Indigenous communities have gone without access to running and potable water, creating similar crises that have gone relatively unnoticed.

Despite a campaign pledge from the Liberal government in 2016, that promised $1.8 billion dollars over five years to help end long-term water advisories, Indigenous communities in Canada are still struggling to find safe water to drink.

A prime example of this is the community of Shoal Lake, Ontario, whose residents haven’t been able to drink from the community’s water supply since 1998. That’s 20 years without potable water.

“The impact of not having safe drinking water has been great and costly for us,” Roxanne Green of Shoal Lake 40 First Nation said in Ottawa in 2017. “We have people in our community that are very vulnerable to sickness because we don’t have access to clean drinking water.”

In contrast to communities like Shoal Lake that are forced to live on rationed water reserves, or collect their water from resources sometimes miles from their homes, Canadians used an average of 251 litres of water per day in 2011, according to an article in the Globe and Mail. This rate of consumption is almost triple what Cape Town citizens are currently using. While Canada’s fresh water reserves can currently withstand this level of consumption, climate change will likely only exacerbate water shortages around the world, including in Canada.

As it stands, we are not in a Mad Max movie, but if our individual habits around water consumption don’t change we very well could be. It is important to realize that fresh water is a resource, but as Cape Town approaches Day Zero, it is not endless.

We are putting the power back in your hands, as the individual, to make the necessary changes in your day to day life that will help mitigate the problem.