‘Day Zero’ May Be Approaching on a Global Level
Late in 2017, the mayor of Cape Town, South Africa predicted that there would soon come a day the city would run out of water. The coined “Day Zero” was initially to be expected this April, and with careful conservation of water, it was later pushed back to May 11.
This past week, however, Day Zero was pushed back to 2019, with no official prediction date. Cape Town is in the midst of a drought that has been occurring over the past three years with no sign of an ending anytime soon. Officials have stated that when Day Zero arrives, the government will turn off the pipes and begin rationing water.
Though the drought is the primary cause of this water crisis, lack of infrastructure planning by politicians and ignorance by the city’s residents have worsened the issue. Since the initial prediction, the city asked everyone to use less water, but over half the population ignored the warning.
The city is now asking that no one consume over 13 gallons of water per day. For comparison, that’s about the size of your average kitchen trash can. This water amount includes drinking, cooking, washing dishes, showering, flushing toilets and much more. When Day Zero does come, the amount will be cut in half.
The good news for the city of almost 4.5 million people is that conserving water has continuously helped push back the inevitable day that Cape Town’s water reservoirs run out. The city has made it illegal to use water for things like swimming pools, gardens and car washes. While facing criminal charges for washing a car may seem extreme, the thought of standing in line each day to collect water doesn’t seem like a better alternative.
The frightening reality is that, though the city has been able to conserve water well enough to postpone it by a year, Day Zero still looms over the city. Cape Town is preparing over 200 emergency water stations to each serve about 20,000 residents. The city’s residents have little hope that the situation will improve.
“I’m afraid we’re at the 11th hour,” says South African resource-management expert Anthony Turton told National Geographic. “There is no more time for solutions. We need an act of God. We need divine intervention.”
“I’m not sure if we’ll be able to avert Day Zero,” says Kevin Winter, lead researcher at an urban water group at the University of Cape Town. “We’re using too much water, and we can’t contain it. It’s tragic.”
Cape Town recognized 20 years ago that this dreaded future may soon arrive. Though the city’s population nearly doubled during this time, Cape Town excelled at managing its water resources. It even earned national recognition for water management. The true problem stemmed from the fact that everyone expected rainfall patterns to remain constant.
As my colloquium professor would say, the city was managing its problem during the good times, but failed to prepare for a change in weather. When the drought hit, the city was unprepared for the water shortage.
Day Zero in Cape Town may have been pushed back, but it’s still coming. Cape Town isn’t the only major city in the world fighting a water crisis. In 2015, reservoirs in Sao Paolo, Brazil were so low that pipes were transporting mud. Betsy Otto, director of the global water program at the World Resources Institute, claimed that the city was down to less than 20 days’ supply of water.
National Geographic reports that with millions of inhabitants, Mexico City, Melbourne, Jakarta, and many Indian cities are all fighting their own battles against the overconsumption of water by rapidly increasing populations. The scarcity recently hit Los Angeles, as a drought hit the state of California.
If cities and governments around the world don’t begin to prepare, water scarcity will play a leading role in the problems of the next generation. As individuals, we should all strive to minimize our own water consumption today so that we still have water tomorrow.