The amount of water in Voelvlei Dam near Cape Town, one of the region's largest water catchments, is nearing a critical level. PHOTO: Mike Hutchings/Reuters

Water crisis in Cape Town, S Africa: Coming to your city in the near future?

A looming water crisis in major city in S Africa comes as a warning sign, the “canary in a coal mine” to all cities, according to Larry Swatuk, professor of International Development at the University of Waterloo, in Ontario.

Cape Town could become the first major city in the world to run out of water in early April.

Larry Swatuk (PhD) is also an extraordinary professor at the Institute for Water Studies, University of Western Cape, S. Africa.


“Day Zero” is the name given to the date when the city seems that its water supply will run out.

Recently the date was moved forward from April 22, to April 12.  With less than 80 days of water left in the city’s reservoirs in the South Africa summer, the  premier of the Western Cape province, Helen Zille says the situation has now become an imminent crisis.

Image taken from a brief video tweeted by Alistair Coy on Jan 24. “If you want to know how serious the water situation is in Cape Town, this footage of the largest dam, Theewaterskloof, was taken this morning! Day Zero is not far away! PHOTO- Twitter- Alistair Coy

She has written to South Africa President Jacob Zuma calling for the declaration of a national disaster affecting some 3.8 million people in the nation’s second most populous city, and vacation spot for another 2 million a year.

People collect drinking water from pipes fed by an underground spring, in St. James, about 25km from the city centre, on January 19, 2018, in Cape Town.
Cape Town will next month slash its individual daily water consumption limit by 40 percent to 50 litres, the mayor said on January 18, as the city battles its worst drought in a century. / PHOTO: Rodger Bosch-AFP-Getty Images

A booming population, ageing infrastructure with its concept based on European climate conditions, and a changing climate have all combined to create the crisis.

Three years of drought have worsened the crisis and the climate forecast predicts the region will get hotter and drier in coming decades.

Citizens have been told to limit showers to 90 seconds, and bath water is being used to flush toilets.

Although the city has reduced water pressure, the mayor is quoted in a CNN report saying “We can no longer ask people to stop wasting water. We must force them.”

Starting February 1, residents will be limited to 50 litres of water per day.

Cape Town City Mayor Patricia de Lille (centre) talks to media on Jan. 11 at a site in Mitchells Plain, about 25 kilometres from the city centre, where the council has ordered drilling into an aquifer to tap water. PHOTO: Rodger Bosch-AFP-Getty Images)

Professor Swatuk points out that many of these issues can be discussed at a major international conference coming up in Montreal in June at the World Cities meeting known as ICLEI ( International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives/ Local governments for Sustainability).

He also says, all cities must start to look at these issues as varying degrees of each and all the elements of the Cape Town situation will eventually affect them.

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