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Sunday 18 March 2018
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Challenges And Opportunities Presented By ‘Day Zero’ In Cape Town

Challenges And Opportunities Presented By ‘Day Zero’ In Cape Town


There are certain things we all take for granted and as Cape Town is about to witness in a month or so, every caution no matter in which direction it is coming from we have to take heed.

In 1990, Barry Streek writing for The Cape Times warned the City of Cape Town saying in 17 years’ time; the city would run out of water. His article, “City will run out of water” was one of the very first pieces that predicted water challenges in Cape Town. There were according to the article many others including experts who shared the same sentiments.

As many people as long back as 1990 already saw what the future looked like, the question that comes to mind is why did the powers that be let the situation reach the stage it has without putting into action counter plans to avert this problem. There is no better answer I presume than to say it was a lack of willingness to listen and to understand. It is my belief that if the powers had listened long back then the process of constructing desalinisation plants would have started as long back as the 90s. It is unfortunate that it did not happen but we cannot all spend our time reminiscing on what could have rather, we have to look into the future and note how to start doing things differently.

There is no doubt that with ‘Day Zero’ (the day when running water runs out) looming, a host of challenges for the public and the authorities arises.

The biggest challenge that the city of Cape Town faces in the wake of Day Zero is that productivity levels of the city will shrink. Among the many observations by individual countries and international organisations when it comes to providing safe, reliable and accessible clean water is that supply of fresh water leads to healthier and a more productive population. This on it’s own presents the biggest challenge to the city as levels of sanitation and hygiene is compromised.

Apart from productivity levels, Day Zero also presents serious health challenges to the entire city of Cape Town. Too much water and too little water often times leads to the quick spreading of diseases. Some of the health risks arising from a shortage of clean fresh water include fatigue, premature aging, obesity, high and low blood pressure, high levels of bad cholesterol, constipation, diseases of the digestive system, problems with the respiratory system, unbalanced pH, eczema, urinary tract infections, and rheumatism.

On the social and economic front, Day Zero promises to derail the thriving tourism industry in Cape Town. For the past two years in a row, the Telegraph Travel Awards voted for by British tourists, ranked Cape Town as the best city in the world. Tourism figures in Cape Town had been steadily rising and more was expected in the coming two years as studies showed that more Chinese visitors were set to make the city their prime destination. However, the water challenges the city is facing means potential tourists have to rethink before coming and many might just shun coming to Cape Town. The problem is further compounded by the fact that water sports are a major draw to tourists and if indeed the water shortage problem keeps persisting then the city of Cape Town might just be forced to temporarily halt water sports.

It’s not all gloomy though, Day Zero has actually woke the city of Cape Town up and major developments that will last for a long time are already being muted. Firstly, many corporations have expressed the desire to start constructing desalination plants. South Africa’s leading hotelier Tsogo Sun Hotel is already on the ground while more desalination plants are in the pipeline.

They say necessity is the mother of invention and this is no further from the truth in the case of South Africa and its innovators. Late last year, the late Nkosinathi Nkomo created the AquRenu system, a system that purifies grey water from the bathroom and stores it to use for future use in the toilet or for irrigation purposes. More innovative ideas and inventions are still popping up and more are yet to become public.

Finally yet importantly, Day Zero as is the case now, leads to behaviour change among the public. The amount of water consumed by Cape Town residents decreased from a seven-day average of 540 million litres to just above 400 million litres from June to December 2017. The figure was expected to decrease week on week. It’s safe to say that the city of Cape Town may well be consuming around 300 million litres now.

The beauty of all these opportunities created by Day Zero is that they do not fade as the situation improves but rather they will be in existence for many years to come and they might as well breed new ideas and developments that may make the coming of a second Day Zero unlikely.