Cape Town, South Africa, is experiencing a massive drought, preparing for “Day Zero,” when the city’s water supply is depleted.
Residents are only allowed to use 50 liters of water a day, meaning toilets go unflushed, showers are under three minutes long, and agriculture is suffering.
I visited Cape Town, and saw how the drought is having significant societal consequences, including a weakened economy and rising inequality.
In South Africa, a tale of two cities dominates a society burdened by massive inequality, and a water crisis is driving the wedge further.
I visited Cape Town for two weeks in May 2017 in the midst of a drastic water shortage, and saw how the city of nearly 4 million is on the cusp of becoming the first modern metropolis to run out of the natural resource.
Environmental conditions have threatened Cape Town and sent millions into a panic. Clean water may have been taken away from people in Cape Town, but many poor blacks have never even had that human right.
In 2010, the United Nations “recognized the human right to water and sanitation and acknowledged that clean drinking water and sanitation are essential to the realisation of all human rights.”
While South Africa was one of the BRICS nations of emerging economies, the country has struggled to recover from the global financial crisis of a decade ago. Unemployment is 27% and the per capita income sits at $13,400. These numbers also hide the major issue of economic inequality in South Africa.
“Inequity plays out in water very obviously, and what we’re seeing in Cape Town risks becoming an example of that,” said Giulio Boccaletti, the Nature Conservancy’s global managing director.
One reason that water is scarce is because of massive population growth, nearly double what it was 30 years ago. Residents talk about people moving from rural to urban areas, making resources in the cities scarce. Immigration — especially from other African nations — is also viewed as a large factor, and contributes to xenophobic attitudes, dispelling the myth of a united Africa.
The water problem is not isolated to Cape Town. The US intelligence community published a report that predicted global water requirements will exceed supply by 40% by 2030.
Here’s what Cape Town’s water crisis looks like on the ground:
Cape Town, South Africa, is poised to become the first major city to run out of water. The coastal city had originally scheduled “Day Zero” — the day in which all water supply would be depleted — for April, but a decrease in usage and a successful increase of the supply has pushed the event back to 2019.
Source: City of Cape Town
Residents are limited to 50 liters (about 13 gallons) a day, and the city even offers a guideline on how to manage the allotment. For comparison, each American uses 80 to 100 gallons of water a day on average.
The World Bank estimates that South Africa has the largest Gini coefficient, meaning it has the worst economic equality in the world. And the water shortage is increasing the divide between the haves and the have-nots.
Source: The World Bank
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