By Emily Stremel
Usually a term reserved for doomsday enthusiasts and Hollywood films. But for the nearly four million residents in Cape Town, South Africa, Day Zero is less than 80 days away. On April 12, 2018, Cape Town’s taps will turn off.
On Day Zero, all water to non-essential services will be shut off. Schools will close. Businesses will cease to function. All water will have to be brought by individuals from a communal tap with only 200 collection stations around the city. As of February 1, the municipal government is asking that residents limit their water usage to a mere 50 litres a day, what the World Health Organization considers to be the minimum amount needed in order for basic needs to be met. Currently, with 50 litres a day in mind, the city is advising for 90 second showers, 2 litres of drinking water per person, and a single toilet flush. When the taps turn off, however, residents will only have access to half that. Soon, wet toilets will become an impossibility and showers will be replaced with sponge baths.
While we are often taught in school that water is a renewable resource, for the people of Cape Town, it’s not quite as simple as just ’renewing’ it. Cape Town is in its worst drought in over a century; this began in 2015 and is ongoing today. Residents have been asked to be on water saving measures since 2004. South Africa is the 30th driest country in the world, and with climate change, the recent effects of El Nino and a steadily increasing population have all made the situation more dire. Plus, 60% residents have continuously not been hitting their water usage reduction targets, bringing the whole city closer to Day Zero.
The city currently has seven augmentation projects on the go, and upon their completion they will produce 200 million liters per day of drinking water; however, three of the four desalination plants are behind schedule and are not likely to be ready when Day Zero comes. The three other projects, two ground water drilling efforts and one water recycling plant, are also behind schedule. And with the city using 618 million liters a day, the water from the augmentation projects will hardly be a drop in the bucket compared to what residents are used to.
According to Epcor, the average Edmontonian uses 225L of water each day. With a population the quarter of Cape Town’s, the Edmonton metropolitan region still uses more water than the total daily handouts that will be allotted to Capetonians as of April 12.
A future with no running water may seem like a far-fetched idea to Canadians. We’re often told that we have 20% of the world’s fresh water reserves at our fingertips, but it’s not as simple as that. According to the Canadian government, only 7% of the freshwater is in a renewable state. Most of that water drains toward the Arctic Ocean and Hudson Bay, therefore becoming inaccessible to the 85% of Canadians living across the southern border. And while we don’t see dry taps here, there are still First Nations communities that have long-standing boil water advisories, some dating as far back as 1995. As of January 23, the federal government is resolving to have 91 of these advisories cleared before March of 2021.
While water conservation is going to an extreme for Capetonians with grey water being recycled wherever possible, Edmontonians can learn a thing or two from their efforts. Simple measures can be taken: taking shorter showers, replacing old shower heads and toilets to newer, more water-efficient brands, and even choosing more water-efficient landscaping, can seriously affect water usage. And while we do seem to be a ways off from the world becoming a Mad Max-type of reality, next time you turn on the tap, remember that clean, fresh water may not be there forever.