It’s one of our most basic resources and one that many of us in the developed world take completely for granted. I am, of course, referring to potable water. Here in the UK, most conversations famously revolve around how much it rains all the bloody time. Only, the situation is vastly different in those places facing the effects of climate change at the opposite end of the spectrum; Cape Town infamously being one of them.
South Africa is an achingly beautiful country pained with a heart-wrenching past and harrowing future. Cape Town specifically is now facing what is commonly referred to as ‘Day Zero’ in a matter of months: the day the taps will run dry as a result of long-term drought. This undoubtedly horrendous state of affairs can teach us all about the horrors of climate change and what must be done to rectify our global water supply.
I remember clear as day the first time that I visited Africa’s southernmost nation. Luckily I had South African friends and others who had visited plenty of times to tell me what to expect. Some of the conversations were strategy-based, revolving around how to stay safe, as should be touched upon when traveling to a new country. But most conversations painted the nation as a watercolor spectacular, filled with unparalleled natural beauty and a rich culture trying to look forward to a more positive future than the tainted hand it was dealt in the past.
That trip passed by in the blink of an eye; just under a month spent in Cape Town and the surrounding area. Bliss. But one of the things that really struck me what the glaringly-obvious dichotomy of the city. On one side was the beautiful, affluent waterfront area and on the other, miles of shanty-towns as far as the eye could see. There was no real middle ground. Only the very wealthy and the very poor and seemingly little intereaction between the two.
As South Africa’s economy has expanded, we’ve seen wealth distribution shared anything but equally and those at the top accused of corruption. It’s no wonder that the general population hasn’t felt looked after. Now faced with a crisis that is affecting everyone, the wealthiest are digging their own boreholes while everyone else is having to queue for hours at designated refill points across the city to collect their ration. Many are looking accusingly to the water-intensive vineyards that litter the land. Can wine production for an international market which does boost the economy still keep going at its current rate? And how will things fare with the recent turn of events resulting in Cyril Ramaphosa being sworn in as President? A bit better, we can hope.
As the situation currently stands, Capetonians are allowed 11 gallons of water a day to include everything from drinking to cooking to bathing and doing laundry. But even if they stick to this, the taps are still going to run dry this Spring based on current projections. When this happens, a “lifeline” supply allocated as 5.5 gallons per person per day is going to be given to citizens at heavily-guarded emergency collection points. To put this into perspective, the average power shower pumps out over 3 gallons a minute. Therefore, you realize that showering is actually considered a luxury. Forget baths that on average use over 17 gallons of the stuff per each fill. We’re talking bare minimum water consumption purely for survival, at this point.
With the plans in place for this stressful time looming ever more heavily on the horizon, there is fear around the possibility of anarchy breaking out as a result of over a million people being forced into survival mode. It’s difficult to predict how this immensely stressful pressure will affect the general population; will it bring them together and induce compassion, or create chaos? Only time will tell.
No city in the world has done this before: turned off its taps to residents. And while it would be a nice thought to hope that nowhere else has to, the truth is that the effects of the climate change which has caused this are not only very real, but also the greatest threat to humanity and all other life on Earth at present. With desertification seen as the greatest killer (although floods too causes catastrophic damage), it is almost certain that Cape Town won’t be the last city to see its taps run dry in our lifetime.
Being mindful of your water consumption is always a good idea. Just as it’s beneficial to be mindful of any other resources that you consume. But you might not be living in a drought zone, just like I’m fortunate enough not to. So what can we do from many miles away to help? The answer is simple: reverse the effects of climate change.
Momentum is building, and no action is too small to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Do whatever you can. With the biggest culprits being our food, transport and fashion industries, some ideas include:
Host a dinner party and wow non-vegan friends with an incredible three-course dinner made of entirely plant-based recipes. Check our archive for inspo.
Slow down your consumption by asking “do I need this?” before purchasing.
Plant trees from your desk with search engine Ecosia.
Offset your carbon emissions, especially if you are a frequent flyer.
Support local produce and locally-made goods that have a low carbon footprint.
Opt for reclaimed timber for the furniture in your home and save our forests from intense logging.
Speak up in your communities and to government representatives about the importance of counteracting climate change.
There are many questions still to be answered and citizens of one of the world’s great cities on the edge of their seats praying for abundant rainfall. What does the future have in store? Only time will tell. My heart is with you, Cape Town.
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Photos: Kat Kennedy