Mon | Jan 21, 2019

'Spare yourself a shower' - Water shut-off looms in Cape Town

Published:Sunday | January 28, 2018 | 12:00 AM
People queue to collect water from a natural spring outlet in the Cape Town, South Africa, suburb of St James, yesterday. Tourists in the city famously perched near two oceans are being asked to flush the toilet as little as possible and swim in the ocean instead of pools ‘and maybe even spare yourself a shower’.


Long lines of South Africans collect water daily from a natural spring pipeline in an upscale suburb of Cape Town, illustrating the harsh impact of a drought that authorities say could force the closure of most taps in the country's second-largest city in just over two months, an occasion ominously known as "Day Zero."

The prospect that large sections of South Africa's showcase city, famously perched near two oceans, might go without running water has induced anxiety as well as resolve among its nearly four million residents.

It has attracted scrutiny from scientists and city managers worldwide who also face the dual challenge of ballooning populations and shrinking resources. This would be the world's first major city to go dry.

"There are a lot of people who have been in denial, and now, they suddenly realise this is for real," said Shirley Curry, who waited to fill a plastic container with spring water from one of several taps outside a South African Breweries facility in the Newlands suburb.

Security guards made sure people took only an allotted amount (25 litres maximum in one line and 15 litres in another "express" line).

However, things were more freewheeling at a nearby spring water source with no oversight.

Mayor Patricia de Lille this month threatened to fine those who use too much water and said the city could no longer ask people to comply: "We must force them."

The spectacle of people scrounging for water could become more common as "Day Zero" approaches in Cape Town, whose natural beauty has made it a coveted spot for international visitors.

While the city urges people to restrict water usage, many living in poor areas already have limited access to water. They use communal taps in gritty neighbourhoods such as Blue Downs on the Cape Flats, where people washed clothes outside and carried buckets of water to shack dwellings on a recent afternoon.

Cape Town's leaders have instructed residents to use only 50 litres of water daily from February 1, down from the current 87-litre limit.

"Day Zero" is projected to arrive on April 12, but some fear it could come sooner, while others hope it won't happen if rationing works and rains eventually come.