Water security, water resources, glaciers, global warming, public health, aging infrastructure, Cape Town | Homeland Security Newswire

Water securityCape Town water crisis highlights a worldwide problem

Published 13 February 2018

The water supply is running dry in Cape Town, South Africa. The city’s reservoirs are shrinking as a three-year drought wears on. If it doesn’t rain soon, the drought could bring South Africa’s second most populous city to its knees. Cape Town residents are adapting as best they can. They are skipping showers and finding new ways to conserve and reuse their meager allowance of 50 liters (13 gallons) per person per day. That allowance may soon be cut in half, too. As soon as April or May, Cape Town could reach “Day Zero,” when the city will shut off the taps in homes and businesses. Residents will need to line up at collection stations to gather their water rations. Only hospitals, schools, and other essential services would still receive piped water. If things continue on in this way, Cape Town is in danger of becoming the world’s first major city to run entirely out of water. How can this happen in a city of four million residents? And what other cities may be at risk?

The water supply is running dry in Cape Town, South Africa. The city’s reservoirs are shrinking as a three-year drought wears on. If it doesn’t rain soon, the drought could bring South Africa’s second most populous city to its knees.

Cape Town residents are adapting as best they can. They are skipping showers and finding new ways to conserve and reuse their meager allowance of 50 liters (13 gallons) per person per day. That allowance may soon be cut in half, too.

As soon as April or May, Cape Town could reach “Day Zero,” when the city will shut off the taps in homes and businesses. Residents will need to line up at collection stations to gather their water rations. Only hospitals, schools, and other essential services would still receive piped water.

If things continue on in this way, Cape Town is in danger of becoming the world’s first major city to run entirely out of water. How can this happen in a city of four million residents? And what other cities may be at risk? In a conversation with Sarah Fecht of the Earth Institute’s State of the Planet, Upmanu Lall, director of the Columbia Water Center, explains.

Sarah Fecht: What went wrong?
Upmanu Lall:
Worldwide, people have designed water systems so that the amount of water they store and release is based on the worst drought they have seen in that region. The problem is that the estimate may only be based on 10, 20, or 40 years of data. It’s not enough. The variation and severity of droughts can vary somewhat cyclically, depending on El Niño and other longer-term cycles. Cape Town has seen three years which are some of the driest at least in the last 60 years, but if you look at the longer record, this is not altogether a big surprise. The 1940s had a comparable drought as measured by the total shortage relative to the target supply. There probably is some role of climate change, but that’s not what I see as the primary issue. It’s just that the management processes we have were designed with a limited understanding of how climate cycles are manifest.