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A major South African city is about to run out of water, and officials say it will be the worst disaster since 9/11

Business Insider

After three years of persistent drought, the government is warning that “Day Zero” — when they will be forced to turn off the faucets — will be April 16, 2018. That’s when reservoirs and water sources will hit 13.5% capacity, at which point the city will move most residents to a strict bucket- and jug-based water rationing system.

As Cape Town’s reservoirs of fresh water get dangerously close to running dry, locals are beginning to store water in jugs and fill up at spring-fed taps set up by local breweries. Those who can afford it are boring mini backyard wells to collect private water stashes, and some hotels are investing in pricey desalination plants to make ocean water drinkable.

Take a look at how people are dealing with the looming crisis:

Associated Press

THE DROUGHT IS THE REGION’S WORST IN OVER A CENTURY.

The Theewaterskloof dam, the city’s largest, is just 13% full.
Associated Press

THE SOUTH AFRICAN WEATHER SERVICE SAYS CLIMATE CHANGE IS MAKING THEIR HISTORICAL MODELS USELESS.

Long-term forecasters say it’s impossible to predict how long the crisis might last.
The Theewaterskloof dam outside Cape Town, South Africa, on Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2018. Associated Press

CAPE TOWN’S POPULATION HAS ALSO BEEN GROWING RAPIDLY, COMPOUNDING THE EFFECTS OF THE THREE-YEAR DROUGHT.

Data from the UN shows the percentage of South Africans living in cities has been climbing since the 1950s.
People collect water from a communal tap at an informal settlement near Cape Town, South Africa, Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2018. Associated Press

THE CITY IS TRYING TO PUSH PEOPLE TO USE LESS WATER AT HOME.

After weeks of failed attempts, there’s some evidence that people are finally starting to heed the city’s calls.

55% OF THE CITY’S RESIDENTS ARE NOW USING LESS THAN 87 LITERS OF WATER A DAY AT HOME. BUT THAT’S NOT GOING TO BE ENOUGH TO AVOID THE CATASTROPHE.

“Only if each of us reduces our daily use down to 50 liters or less, and the City implements the necessary projects, will we avoid Day Zero,” the city’s website says.
Associated Press

LOCAL BEER BOTTLERS ARE OPENING UP THEIR NATURAL SPRING TAPS SO THAT PEOPLE CAN COLLECT FREE WATER, OFF THE CITY’S GRID.

People queue to collect water from a natural spring outlet in the South African Breweries in Cape Town, Tuesday Jan. 23, 2018. Associated Press

MOST OF THE OTHER PLANS TO CREATE NEW DESALINATION PLANTS, WATER RECYCLING FACILITIES, AND GROUND-WATER SOURCES ARE RUNNING BEHIND SCHEDULE.

Only one “alternative water source” project in the works is running on schedule: a waterfront hotel’s plan to build its own private plant to treat ocean water.
AP Photo/Anwa Essop

THE GOVERNMENT IS WORRIED THAT IF PEOPLE CAN’T CONSERVE ENOUGH WATER TO AVOID THE SHUT-OFF, ANARCHY WILL ERUPT.

Even though apartheid ended more than two decades ago, inequality in South Africa is still soaring. In 2015, black South Africans made only one fifth what their white counterparts made, according to a New York Times report.
Associated Press

EVEN IF ‘DAY ZERO’ DOES ARRIVE, NOT ALL THE TAPS WILL BE TURNED OFF.

People who live in settlements and shanty towns where there’s no running water in their homes will still have access to the city’s supply from spigots like the one shown above.
AP Photo/Anwa Essop

BUT EVERYONE ELSE WILL BE LIMITED TO 25 LITERS A DAY.

They’ll have to collect their water ration from one of the 200 water distribution points the city will set up around town.
Associated Press

THAT MEANS THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE WILL LINE UP AT EACH TAP EVERY DAY TO COLLECT THEIR WATER.

Western Cape Premier Helen Zille wrote in the Daily Maverick that “if every family sends one person to fetch their water allocation, about 5,000 people will congregate” at each tap per day.
Cape Town’s main water supply, the Theewaterskloof dam, on Tuesday, January 23, 2018. Associated Press

“AS THINGS STAND, THE CHALLENGE EXCEEDS ANYTHING A MAJOR CITY HAS HAD TO FACE ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD SINCE THE SECOND WORLD WAR OR 9/11,” ZILLE WROTE.

“I personally doubt whether it is possible for a city the size of Cape Town to distribute sufficient water to its residents, using its own resources, once the underground water-pipe network has been shut down,” she said.
People queue to collect water from a natural spring outlet in the Cape Town, South Africa, suburb of St. James, Saturday Jan. 20, 2018. Associated Press

BOREHOLE COMPANIES, MEANWHILE, HAVE BEEN DOING A NICE BUSINESS, AS THOSE WHO CAN AFFORD TO BUILD THEIR OWN PRIVATE WATER STORAGE WELLS OPT TO DO THAT.

Source: Bloomberg

THEY’VE ALSO BEEN ASKING RESIDENTS AND TOURISTS TO COLLECT AND RE-USE THEIR BATHING WATER TO FLUSH TOILETS, AND LIMIT SHOWER TIMES TO TWO MINUTES.

THEY’RE ALSO TELLING PEOPLE TO SHOWER LESS OFTEN AND USE HAND SANITIZER INSTEAD OF WASHING THEIR HANDS SOME OF THE TIME.

Associated Press

BUT CAPE TOWN ISN’T THE ONLY CITY IN WATER TROUBLE — THE WORLD WILDLIFE FUND ESTIMATES THAT BY 2025, TWO THIRDS OF THE WORLD WILL BE DEALING WITH WATER SHORTAGES.

As droughts fueled by climate change become more frequent and developing cities become more packed with people, some fresh water sources could be under threat.

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