Learning the hard way

Megan Rowling –
Every day, the drought-hit South African city of Cape Town takes to social media channels to exhort residents to save on water, giving practical tips such as only flushing the toilet once a day with water already used for showering or washing up.
It appears citizens are largely heeding the call to “beat Day Zero”, the date reservoirs are expected to have shrunk so low authorities will have to shut off taps in the city’s homes, forcing people to queue for water at 200 collection points. This week, Day Zero was pushed back again until June 4, providing some relief to worried residents.
It had previously been predicted as early as April.
Ian Neilson, the city’s executive deputy mayor, said the postponement was due to falling water use for agriculture in the Western Cape region and Capetonians reducing their personal consumption in line with pleas by officials. At the start of February, the city asked residents to use only 50 litres or less each per day, and provided an online water calculator to help people work out how to do that.
For example, a two-minute shower requires an average of 20 litres, but a sponge bath from a basin takes only 3 litres. The coastal city of about 4 million people has now cut its consumption to 526 million litres per day, about half the more than 1 billion litres used two years ago, Neilson noted.
“If we continue to work as a team to lower our consumption to 450 million litres per day, as required, we will become known as one of the most resilient cities in the world,” he said.
“We are fast becoming a leading example of a large city that is fundamentally changing its relationship with water,” he added.
Officials and experts agree the three-year drought that has hit South Africa’s legislative capital — the worst in Cape Town’s recorded history — has shocked the public into a new awareness of the need to conserve water as climate change brings more extreme dry spells.
“I think water restrictions are going to become a permanent part of our lives going forward, and the city doesn’t intend on removing any water restrictions, at least in the forseeable future,” said Cape Town Councillor Xanthea Limberg, the executive mayoral committee member for water and waste services.
“It is going be a part of what we term the new normal,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, adding that other municipalities in South Africa would need to conserve water too. (Thomson Reuters Foundation)