Africa, including its tip, is a place of extremes. Here in Cape Town, the rains can come down in torrents that defy the imagination. Sometimes we duck our heads down at the violence of the sound of it on our metal roofs. But, we have not heard that sound in a long time.
So, as the day that the taps run dry draws nearer, Cape Townians become more nervous. Water represents the largest and heaviest of our daily needs. There is no clear method proposed yet by the Cape Town authorities as to how they are going to distribute water to more than 3.6 million people, when they can no longer have enough in the dams to use the infrastructure that pipes it directly into our homes. One thing however is clear, our attitude toward water usage has changed.
What does “day 0” mean to you?
The taps running dry has an immediate visceral consequence, it means that you will carry a lot of water. You may blame a different government or locally elected representatives for your impending disaster status. But, the solution to the problem lies in the same hands, yours.
What “day 0” means to us
Day 0 means that everybody has had to accept their part in the problem. We can no longer tolerate using 1 – 2 gallons of drinking water to flush away one pee. Social norms have changed, local radio has helped people talk about the need to apply: “if it’s yellow, let it mellow”. Even in the plushest of hotels, it is now acceptable to look the next cubicle occupant in the eye as you walk away from an unflushed toilet.
To my household, attempting to remain within our 13 gallons per person, per day this means that we collect the water from our washing machine water and reuse it. We shower in a bucket and reuse that. We catch the water we wash our hands with, our dishes with and we reuse that. It meant that, when my little family got a tummy bug, I had to go and fill two 7 gallon drums with ground water to flush with, because we ran out of grey water. It means that I buy Lavender oil regularly now, because grey water can get smelly fast.
Even if everyone in Cape Town does what my family does to stay within our limits, Day 0 is still coming, current estimates suggest some time in June. Of course, people are drilling boreholes to our aquifer, but not everyone has the luxury of tapping that resource.
What we don’t know about Day 0
What we do know is that pipes, not people, should carry water! When did you last try to carry 5 gallons of water? My word, there are just 3 in my family and that means that we need 15 gallons per day (based on World Health Organisation estimates). I am not sure I can move that. Do I need to invest in a wheel barrow? With estimates of 20,000 people per government-watering station, confidence is not high that supplies can be provided in any meaningful way. Can people drive in to collect? What about those with no cars? How long will it take for the smallest of families, to fill a container with 15 gallons of water? What does water collection mean for families of 6 or more? We watch in interest, and wait in fear. We watch the new water-services grow, and we learn that supply does not match demand when we try and buy food-grade plastic to transport our water in.
We know about hope
I keep looking up at that mountain that looms above the city that circles it and I ask it to do its job. Gather clouds please Table Mountain and bring down the rain. Because we are not ready. We don’t all have tanks to collect rainwater. We don’t all have grey water recovery systems in our houses. We don’t all have a sensible way to store large amount of fresh drinking water at home, and very few of us are in a position to install waterless or composting toilets in the near future. So, we hope for a solution and we hope for rain; we hope that our safety is not compromised by this disaster and we hope that our local economy is not impacted by this crisis.
About the author
Harrie Bickle is a British Citizen, now officially a South African Resident, who moved to Cape Town 12 years ago. She is a Technical writer, with a background in Science.