Cape Town could be forced to turn off its water taps on April 12th, according to city officials. With more than 4 million residents in the metro area, the second largest city in South Africa would be the first major city in the world run out of water.
This potentially catastrophic problem has been in the works for two years, when the worst drought in a century began to affect the city’s water supply. The rainfall-fed reservoirs that supply the city were depleted to less than 10% their capacity in June last year, and are currently at one third their normal levels.
As the city government prepared for the worst, the ominously named “Day Zero” (the day the city will be forced to turn off the taps) was moved up ten days from April 22nd to April 12th, less than three months away. Cape Town gets the majority of its tap water from winter rains, which typically begin between April and June.
Despite repeated warnings from their government, most Cape Town residents did not cut their water consumption down to the 87 liters (22.9 gallons) per day that was initially recommended.
Mayor Patricia De Lille expressed her disappointment in a statement: “It is quite unbelievable that a majority of people do not seem to care and are sending all of us headlong towards Day Zero. We can no longer ask people to stop wasting water. We must force them.”
West Cape Premier Helen Zille released a statement on January 26th that said the “disaster above all disasters” could still be averted if Cape Town residents limited their consumption to under 50 liters a day.
“No city in the world has had to deal with such a situation as the taps running dry”, the provincial governor added. A 50-liter (13.2-gallon) cap on water consumption per person per day will begin on February 1st.
This has huge implications for the economy of Cape Town, which is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country.
A statement from the local government and tourism organization said the city is “vulnerable to the effects of climate change,” but called the drought a “1 in 1000-year occurrence.” The statement assures visitors that the drought is not as severe in popular areas outside the city, but “tourists need to treat this scarce resource with the utmost respect.”
The statement adds that essential daily needs, such as hygiene and toilets, will still be provided to visitors should “Day Zero” arrive. Guidelines ask that showers should be no longer than 2 minutes. Other facilities, such as tourist destinations, restaurants, and major events will not be closed in the event of Day Zero.
While Cape Town is hurtling towards the unwanted title of “1st global city to run out of water”, South Africa is only the 30th driest nation in the world, meaning that there could be many more cities that will be facing this problem in the near future.