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Water securityCan Israel help solve Cape Town’s water crisis?

By Rebecca Stadlen Amir

Published 8 February 2018

Within three months, South Africa’s capital city and biggest tourist destination may become the first major city in the world to run out of water. The four million residents of Cape Town will have their water supplies cut off unless the city manages to reduce daily consumption by 20 percent. The “Day Zero” shutdown is expected for mid-May 2018 and is recalculated every week based on current reservoir capacity and daily consumption. The crisis is mostly attributed to three years of unprecedented drought that has dried up the city’s six-dam reservoir system. If the dams fall below 13.5 percent capacity before the start of the rainy season in June, taps will be turned off and residents will have to line up at municipal points to collect their allotted 25 liters per day. As ‘Day Zero’ approaches, experts weigh in on how Israel may be able to help Cape Town and other water-scarce locations avoid future disasters.

Within three months, South Africa’s capital city and biggest tourist destination may become the first major city in the world to run out of water.

The four million residents of Cape Town will have their water supplies cut off unless the city manages to reduce daily consumption by 20 percent. The “Day Zero” shutdown is expected for mid-May 2018 and is recalculated every week based on current reservoir capacity and daily consumption.

The crisis is mostly attributed to three years of unprecedented drought that has dried up the city’s six-dam reservoir system. If the dams fall below 13.5 percent capacity before the start of the rainy season in June, taps will be turned off and residents will have to line up at municipal points to collect their allotted 25 liters per day. This amount is about a quarter of the water used by the average American daily.

As “Day Zero” approaches, it seems the whole world is watching to see what Cape Town does.

In Israel, a country with its own history of water struggles and triumphs, experts are weighing in on how Israeli innovation and mindset may be able to help Cape Town and other water-scarce locations avoid future disasters.

“We are known around the world for being experts in water and having developed the most advanced technologies to cope with water scarcity,” says Prof. Eilon Adar, director of Israel’s Zuckerberg Institute for Water Research at Ben Gurion University.

“But it’s not necessarily so that these technologies can be adapted as is and save the rest of the world. Every society has its own constraints – social, physical, natural – and the most we can do is to try and adapt the Israeli concept to see which technologies or innovations can be tailored for the local needs.”

The road to disaster isn’t set it stone
According to Seth Siegel, author of Let There be Water: Israel’s Solution for a Water-Starved World, water problems like the one in Cape Town are almost always avoidable.

“These problems tend to come at you pretty slowly; therefore you have lots of lead time to fix the problem or prepare your population,” said the New York-based author, activist and businessman. In order to arrive at the point of humanitarian crisis, he says, “you have to have a willful ignoring of your problems.”