Article - S028

It’s time Capetonians take responsibility for Day Zero

Published on News24: 25 January 2018

It’s amazing how the blame game works. Cape Town’s water crisis is being blamed on national government’s failure to maintain/expand water storage and supply infrastructure; while local government is being blamed for not recognising the crisis soon enough and delaying mitigating intervention.

As a contrarian, my take on the water crisis is somewhat different. First and foremost, I blame us for driving fossil-fuelled cars, and the world’s largest CO2-emitting nations (including our own) for their criminally sluggish shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy alternatives. These actions are exacerbating climate change which is most likely responsible for the life-threatening downward trend in annual rainfall across the Western and Eastern Cape.

Secondly, I blame humanity’s pervasive reluctance to put measures in place to manage our species’ unsustainable population growth – which will continue to compound our water woes until some form of ‘population plateau policy’ is introduced.

And thirdly, I blame our population’s acceptance, if not promotion, of lifestyle overindulgence.

The scourge of lifestyle overindulgence

Unfortunately, there’s a vacuum of social and political will to address the first and second reasons for this water disaster but, fortunately, the third is well within our means.

Lifestyle overindulgence is synonymous with our species’ carelessness in living beyond the carrying capacity of our surrounding environment. Across the world, the convenience and affordability of piped water has allowed us to become complacent about how much water we use and where we get it from.

Environmental violation aside, this complacency couldn’t have been emphasised more by Cape Town’s dire water crisis, which has taken centre stage on local and international news. But, to the credit of roughly 40% of Cape Town’s population, the crisis has stirred a fundamental shift in mindset … one that embraces the concept of lifestyle moderation. 

As for the other 60% of Capetonians: they’re either ignorant, nonchalant or in denial about the unprecedented catastrophe that awaits them. Hence the urgent need for a Day Zero rehearsal which, as a priority, should target those suburbs across the city that are showing the lowest compliance to the current water restrictions.

The sooner the City simulates a Day Zero water shutdown, the better, because it will serve as a much-needed wake-up call for all those seemingly disinterested Capetonians who are flouting water conservation efforts. And nothing rings truer than: ‘the best way to get people to respect water is to make them carry what they use’.

Hopefully the 60% can find it deep within themselves to exercise some level of austerity before Day Zero kicks in, or they’ll end up being both the least prepared and most affected people when it does.

Day Zero rehearsal is everyone’s responsibility

Although it would be hugely beneficial for the City to organise a Day Zero rehearsal, don’t count on them actually doing it. The sad truth is, Cape Town might well run out of water before the City even has time to schedule a rehearsal – as alluded to in last week’s article titled: ‘The day after Day Zero’.

So, rather than waiting helplessly for the City to carry out a rehearsal, Capetonians should take responsibility for conducting their own Day Zero rehearsals. For instance:

  • Go out and buy as many 25 litre water containers as there are members in your household (and some spares);
  • Shut off your property’s water supply at the incoming municipal main, and only open it once each day to fill the water containers where you park your car;
  • Either carry or use a delivery trolley to take the containers inside, or organise someone strong to assist you;
  • From there, experiment with various methods of decanting and distributing water to different parts of your home by means of more manageable 5 or 10 litre water containers; and
  • Condition the members of your household to get by on their respective daily quotas of water.

By running your own rehearsals for your home and/or your business before Day Zero actually arrives, you will be better positioned than most to deal with the days, weeks and potentially even months of hardship that will follow.

Citizens’ proactiveness will reduce possible chaos

Capetonians should try not to be caught up in the buying frenzy of 5, 10 and 25 litre water containers, tap adapters, delivery trolleys or wheelbarrows around the time of Day Zero. Be proactive early on so you can save all your strength and patience for the inevitable queues at the water collection points.

Hopefully the City will be sensible enough to open the water collection points at least a week before Day Zero arrives, to allow people to test water collection for themselves and spread word as to how it works. It would also give the City a window of opportunity to iron out any last-minute teething problems.

It must be said though, that the greatest challenge Capetonians will face is getting used to life on much less water. The sooner people moderate their usage to just 25 litres a day, the easier the transition will be when Day Zero finally rolls around … and that might well be sooner than we all expect.

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