Cape Town’s Water Crisis


26 Jan 2018 | Various| Websites

Wikipedia: “The Cape Town water crisis is a drought that began in 2015 and is resulting in a severe water shortage in the Western Cape region of South Africa, most notably affecting the city of Cape Town.

Despite water saving measures, dam levels are predicted to decline to critically low levels, and the city has made plans for “Day Zero” on 12 April 2018, when municipal water supply will largely be shut off. If this happens, Cape Town will be the first major city to run out of water.

Day Zero

In mid-January 2018, Cape Town Mayor Patricia de Lille announced that the city will be forced to shut off most of the municipal water supply if conditions do not change, naming 22 April 2018 as “Day Zero”, and shortly afterwards revising Day Zero forward to 12 April.

Plans for Day Zero, when municipal water supplies are switched off, include 200 water collection points around the city where residents can collect a daily ration of 25 litres of water per person. Water supply will be maintained in the city’s CBD, in informal settlements (where water is already collected from central locations) and essential services such as hospitals.


The Cape Town region experiences a warm Mediterranean climate. Water is supplied largely from the six major dams of the Western Cape Water Supply System in mountainous areas close to the city. The dams are recharged by rain falling in their catchment areas, largely during the cooler winter months of May to August, and dam levels decline during the warm, dry summer months of December to February during which urban and agricultural water use increases.

Since 1995, Cape Town’s population has grown from 2.4 million residents to an estimated 4.3 million by 2018, representing a 79 percent population increase in 23 years whilst dam water storage only increased by 15 percent in the same period.  In 2016/2017, 64.5 percent of the city’s water supply went to houses, flats and complexes, while 3.6 percent went to informal settlements.

The possibility of the city exceeding its water supply was highlighted as early as 1990.

In 2009, the storage capacity of the dams supplying Cape Town was increased by 17 percent from 768 to 898 million cubic metres through the completion of the Berg River Dam.

Despite the increased storage capacity, the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry predicted that the growing demand from the city would exceed supply by 2013 without water conservation and demand management measures by the city, and that even with those measures, further water sources would be required by 2019.

Ground Up 

It’s already Day Zero in Siyahlala. Living with 20 litres of water a day


Every three days Vuyiseka Njanjala collects 60 litres of water for her family. All photos: Peter Luhanga

For 34-year-old Vuyiseka Njanjala, nothing will change when Day Zero hits drought-stricken Cape Town. Her taps will not run dry, because she has none. She will not have to flush her toilet with a bucket, because she has no toilet.

Njanjala lives in the sprawling informal settlement of Siyahlala, along the railway line running from Potsdam Road through the back of Dunoon’s houses to the N7 in Cape Town. Here, hundreds of families share one standpipe for water.

Njanjala shares her two room shack with three young children and her husband.

Every third day, she says, she walks about 800 metres to the tap and back.

“In the morning there is a long queue of people seeking to collect water.”

She has been collecting water at the tap since she moved here in 2007.

She told GroundUp that she makes three trips, collecting a 20-litre bucket of water each time, and carrying it back on her head. The 60 litres of water last for three days.

Every morning, she boils water in a 1.5 litre kettle and mixes this with cold water to bath her three children in the same water. She applies soap to a small bath towel, repeatedly rinsing the soapy towel in the water, until the children are clean and ready to go to school.

For herself she also uses 1.5 litres of water boiled in a kettle and cooled with a similar amount of water, also using a small towel.

At the end of her wash, she stands in the basin to wash her feet. Then she throws the water away.

Njanjala says she doesn’t recycle the bath water. If she could, she would use it to water plants but there is no space to plant flowers in front of her home. And her shack has no cement floor to mop.

Njanjala has to carry her family’s water about 800 metres.

Phelisa Tafeni shares her three room shack with five children and her husband. In their home, Tafeni says, they use 20 litres of water a day and this is enough for bathing, cooking and washing dishes.

She says after washing her dishes she shares the soapy water with other residents who also use it to wash their dishes. The soapy dish-washing water makes the rounds among homes, and at the end of the line it is used to wash buckets used to fetch water at the tap.

“It’s a long time since I realised that it is wrong to throw away soapy dish water after washing the dishes. We share among neighbours,” says Tafeni.

Phelisa Tafeni says: “It’s a long time since I realised that it is wrong to throw away soapy dish water after washing the dishes. We share among neighbours.”

Andile Skuthalo is a bachelor. He collects water in a 25 litre jerrycan and says it is enough for drinking, cooking and bathing for three days.

He uses three litres of water to wash with.

When he has laundry, he says, he uses half a jerrycan of 25 litres to soak clothes and the the remaining half to rinse them before hanging the clothes on a line to dry.

Siyahlala residents have no toilets, says community leader Thembinkosi Janda. They cross the railway line and use the bushes as a toilet.

Andile Skuthalo collects water in a 25 litre jerrycan and says it is enough for drinking, cooking and bathing for three days.

Cape Town’s Water Crisis Monitoring, information, and data about South Africa’s worst drought in history

Screen Shot 2018-01-26 at 9.42.41 PM

Image Credits: (Jon Kerrin Photography)

Cape Town water crisis: Why desalination can’t provide water overnight

“The situation is almost too desperate for the irony to be lost on Cape Town residents. The city, penned in by two oceans, is in the grip of a widespread water crisis.

Pre-suspension, Cape Town Mayor Patricia de Lille had announced CPT’s plans to produce an extra 500Ml of water through a mix of desalination plants, ground water extraction, and water reuse. The suggestion temporarily brought relief to Capetonians.

Fast-forward two months, and you’ll notice something. It’s all gone a bit quiet, hasn’t it? What de Lille and co haven’t been so clear about is just how long establishing a permanent desalination plant would take.

Put it this way: If Cape Town’s water crisis worsens as it’s predicted to, the first desalination plant would be up and running roughly a year after the city’s dams were declared ’empty’.

Cape Town’s dams could be ’empty as early as March 2018. (Adam Spiers)

Desalination is a popular solution, but it’s not an overnight one…

What is desalination?

It is the process of taking fresh water from the sea and removing the salt in order to make it usable. This takes an incredible amount of resources, energy, and money…

How much does it cost to install a desalination plant?

We’re looking at around R2.1bn. With labour costs and building materials needing to be budgeted for, it’s an extremely expensive operation and the City has to be careful with how it invests tax-payer money. Tenders were awarded to desalination businesses seven weeks ago by The Mayor, who said plant facilities would begin work in October.

Cape Town confronts looming ‘Day Zero’ water crisis

The dams that store Cape Town’s water supply are currently below 29 percent of capacity [Halden Krog/AP]

“Like many others in Cape Town, Sandra Dickson has no other option but to get creative.

“We catch water from our showers in buckets, and throw it into our toilets,” Dickson, who has been living in the South African city for the last 24 years, told Al Jazeera.

“We’re doing all sorts of things,” she said. “People are even catching water off their roofs.”

The reason for this?

Within 100 days, almost all of the taps in Cape Town could be turned off.

In the grip of a three-year-long drought, the city is predicted to reach “Day Zero” – when its water-supplying dams sink below 13.5 percent of combined capacity – on April 21.

The crisis, principally caused by a lack of rainfall throughout the entire Western Cape province, has led city officials to impose “level six” restrictions on Cape Town’s some 3.7 million people.

With dam levels currently below 30 percent, local authorities have capped water usage at 87 litres a person a day, in what have been described as the most severe restrictions of this kind ever put in place.

A history of abundance

For centuries, South Africa‘s southwest coast has been known for its abundant natural water supplies, generated by the heavy winter rains traditionally characteristic of the region.

Before Europeans colonised the area to create a refreshment stop for sailors in 1652, the land suspended between Table Mountain and the South Atlantic Ocean was referred to by the indigenous Khoi people as “Camissa”, meaning “Place of Sweet Waters”.

We don’t have a traditional Cape Town winter any more.


The city sits in a geographical bowl, making it a natural catchment area for the seasonal rains which have been relied upon to fill the dams that, since their construction in the late 19th and early 20th century, have held Cape Town’s water supply.

Cape Town sits in a natural bowl, making it a catchment area for the winter rains which have traditionally fallen on the city [Obed Zilwa/AP]

In years of average rainfall, for example, up to three times as much of the water used annually by the city falls in the area, ensuring a plentiful supply, according to Kevin Winter, a senior lecturer in environmental science at the University of Cape Town.

But, now, such abundance is no more, as a result of later, less frequent, seasonal rains, which have caused water levels in the dams to fall below 29 percent of combined capacity.

“It is raining, but not sufficiently to fill up our dams,” said Winter.

“As a winter rainfall region, we would [traditionally] expect rainfall to start somewhere around April, but that’s no longer the case, it comes a whole lot later at the end of June, or in early July, if we are lucky.”

According to Winter, up to three years’ worth of seasonal rainfall would be required to bring the dams’ water levels to pre-2015 standards.

“We are experiencing a rapid change in our weather patterns, which is increasingly evident of a climate change … There’s been a very definite, sharp decline in rainfall levels in recent years,” he said.

Bridgetti Lim Bandi, founder of the website and lifelong resident of the city, said that Cape Town’s rainfall pattern has changed dramatically within the last two decades.

“We don’t have a traditional Cape Town winter any more,” she told Al Jazeera.

“It’s not something new, although the City of Cape Town seems to be passing it as such.”

Attempts to avert a crisis

In response to the dwindling water supplies, city officials are pursuing a number of solutions in a bid to avert “Day Zero”, and add to the levels of water in the dams that store Cape Town’s water supply.

Winter said the environmental conditions had forced “new decision-making to occur”, arguing, however, that the city’s longer-term planning “has been quite weak in bringing about a more integrated approach to water management”, which has traditionally relied on surface water.

“Ninety-eight percent of Cape Town’s water supply has come from surface water, and we haven’t [historically] explored a range of other water alternatives,” said Winter.

But Cape Town Mayor Patricia de Lille said the city had initiated programmes to top up levels in the dams using non-surface water sources and techniques such as drilling into aquifers, desalination of seawater and water recycling [from wastewater].

“The city is going out of its way and working beyond its mandate to bring additional water online from various sources,” she told Al Jazeera.

“We implemented water restrictions long before we were required to do so by the National Department and had it not been for our … demand management and conservation plan, the city would probably have run out of water by now.”

Officials have kept water demand flat, despite a population growth of 30 percent in the last 15 years alone, added de Lille.

Patricia de Lille (R) imposed level six water restrictions on Cape Town on January 1 [Rodger Bosch/AFP]

‘Day Zero’

If Cape Town does reach “Day Zero”, authorities will turn off the taps – apart from in the poorest neighbourhoods – and install some 200 water collection sites across the city, according to Cape Town’s water shortages disaster plan.

Ninety-eight percent of Cape Town’s water supply has come from surface water, and we haven’t [historically] explored a range of other water alternatives.


Citizens will then be able to collect approximately 25 litres a person a day from the sites, guarded by police, in line with a World Health Organization recommendation.

No strategy, however, can solve the pressing problem of a lack of precipitation, said Winter

“The combination of interventions and current water demand levels may enable the city to avoid ‘Day Zero’ … But, without rainfall, in the next few months we could be in serious, serious trouble.”

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