Counting down to Day Zero in Cape Town

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Cape Town 50 litre image

Cape Town: host to the 2010 World Cup; renowned for its harbour, wine production and proximity to Table Mountain; home to around 4 million people; and set to be the first major modern city to run out of water.

Cape Town is supplied with water from a number of nearby reservoirs which are refilled by rainfall, ideally in the winter months when less is lost through evaporation.  This rainfall has been in short supply for the last couple of winters, with 2017 having the lowest level of rain on record since 1933, while the population is at an all-time high.  It’s not difficult to conclude that Less rainfall + More people = Not enough water to go around.

If that happens, “Day Zero” will hit.  Currently projected as 15th July, Day Zero will see the water supply to almost all homes and businesses cut off entirely, and people will have to make their way to one of 200 public water points scattered around the city, to collect their daily ration of 25 litres of water per person.

In May 2017, restrictions were put in place limiting people to 100 litres of water per person per day.  In September this was reduced to 87 litres, and on 1st February 2018 the limit was set at 50 litres.  To give you an idea of how little this is, consider that the average daily water use in the southeast of the UK is 160 litres per person, and that a power shower can use up to 15 litres a minute.

These restrictions have helped: Day Zero was originally predicted for the middle of April, but will it be enough?  And could it happen to us?  Perhaps surprisingly, London is only 9th on the BBC’s list of cities most likely to run out of drinking water, in part due to similar problems as Cape Town: unreliable winter rainfall and a growing population.

If you would like to explore this topic more with your students, here are some links and resources that might help: