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The day that no drop of water comes out of the tap. Cape Town forced to adap to #climate change.
Climate Climate Man-Made

Unprecedented tough measures in Cape Town; a little more and no more water will come out of the tap.
It is forbidden to wash cars, spray the lawn or fill the pool with drinking water. Farmers have to reduce their water consumption by 60 percent, citizens cannot use more than 50 liters per day per person from 1 February (in the Netherlands the average use is 119 liters). It is unprecedentedly harsh measures that affect Cape Town to prevent a catastrophe: the day that no drop of water comes out of the tap.

'Day Zero' falls according to calculations on 21 April. Then Cape Town is the first modern city in the world to be threatened by the consequences of climate change. Three dry winters in a row have virtually dried up the well-filled reservoirs around the city - an unprecedented phenomenon. 'Nobody could have foreseen this', says Kevin Winter, climate expert at the University of Cape Town. 'In 2014, the water reservoirs were still full.'

The city council led by Mayor Patricia de Lille is accused of not anticipating the drought in time. Since the construction of the dams at the end of the 19th century, the city has been completely dependent on the water reservoirs, which were usually richly filled by winter rains, other water sources such as groundwater have never been used. 'That is, of course, risky', Winter asserts. 'The future scenarios predict higher temperatures and less rain. But that was about 2040, not about now. Cape Town is now directly forced to adapt to climate change.'

It will be a challenge. Cape Town, with its idyllic location on the ocean and at the foot of Table Mountain, saw the number of inhabitants double to over 4 million in 20 years. Every year, 2 million tourists use a relatively large amount of water. And then there are the vineyards and the many fruit and vegetable companies around the city that depend on the same water. The harvest is expected to fail in large parts around the city if there is no solution to bridge the period until the rainy season - usually from June onwards.

Global water scarcity

Cape Town is not the first, and certainly not the last city in the world to deal with water scarcity. In some dry states in the United States, groundwater is in danger of running out in 2025. Jeddah in Saudi Arabia has already had to find the solution in desalinating seawater. 'But this kind of expensive technological solutions is not available for every country,' says Martine van der Ploeg, Assistant Professor of Soil Physics and Land Management at Wageningen University.
Tunisia people collecting water out of a well

Tunisia, 'water well'.

Van der Ploeg, for example, points to Tunisia that increasingly deeper wells have to be made to reach the fossil groundwater. 'The groundwater level drops one meter per year. It is not replenished with rainwater and therefore, just like oil, it gets up one day. You can only postpone it by using water sparingly. The question then is whether it is smart to grow melons in greenhouses in the desert, even if it is economically interesting. Every city will have to make assessments and make its own policy.'

Citizens who do not adhere to the maximum of 50 liters of water per day can count on high fines
A South African woman carrying water

South Africa

Cape Town is doing everything it can to come up with solutions for 'Dag Zero'. 'It's five to twelve,' said Mayor De Lille on Thursday when she announced the new measures before 1 February. Citizens who do not adhere to the maximum of 50 liters of water per day can count on high fines. The new water use target of the city as a whole has been further reduced from 500 to 450 million liters per day.

Meanwhile, outside the city, there is a frantic search for groundwater and work is being done on water purification to enable reuse for irrigation. In and around Cape Town two hundred distribution points have been set up where people can reach a maximum of 25 liters per person per day. Residents will soon fear long lines in front of the water points, which will otherwise be difficult to reach for the poor in the suburbs without a car. 'It is hoped that things will not get that far', says Winter. 'It is an unworkable plan that can also trigger an explosion of social conflicts.' Now it is rumored that it is mainly the rich in the chic suburbs with their pools and lawns that do not care about the water restrictions.

Still, the disaster does not blame the city government of Cape Town, thinks Winter. 'The city has done a great job by keeping the demand for water stable despite the population increase and the growth of tourism and agriculture.' The result of a successful awareness program to reduce water consumption and prevent waste. Water consumption has now fallen to 618 million liters per day, half less than two years earlier. 'Because of this success, the city has not adequately anticipated the future, which also came faster than expected.'

By: Carlijne Vos, the Volkskrant