South Africa Rations Water As it Tries to Avoid 'Day Zero' Again

This is what drought in Cape Town looked like last year.
This is what drought in Cape Town looked like last year.
Photo: AP

South African residents are being urged to use their water sparingly as hot, dry weather pushes the country toward another water shortage. The South African Minister of Human Settlements, Water, and Sanitation Lindiwe Sisulu made the announcement Monday at a press conference to address the issue.

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Sound familiar? Last year, Cape Town saw a similar situation unfold where the city’s reservoirs began to run out. The countdown to the day the water ran out was dubbed “Day Zero.” Residents could only use 13 gallons of water per day at the height of the crisis. If the country’s second-largest city can suffer such a fate, what’s to say about the rest of the country? To avoid a repeat, it appears South African officials are trying to be more proactive this time around.

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“We are working hard to avoid the much-dreaded Day Zero phenomenon,” Sisulu said per Reuters. “Instead we are announcing restrictions on water usage.”

Over the past 12 months, much of South Africa has experienced drought with the most extreme conditions in the western half of the country. As a result, the dams are suffering: Compared to 2018, levels in the country have dropped to 60 percent this year, 10 percent lower than last year. There are direct consequences for human lives: Some villages in Eastern Cape have been without for months, reports Sowetan Live. They’re relying on water tankers, but that hasn’t stopped villagers from losing valuable livestock to the dry weather. In Johannesburg, a heatwave has caused water restrictions already.

All these growing impacts finally forced the South African government to speak out Monday. For the residents who are already feeling the impacts of such water shortages, however, this response may come too little too late.

The country’s meteorological service is predicting increased odds of above normal rainfall over the southern hemisphere summer, which could help ameliorate the drought. But the dry conditions fit a pattern. Data shows that the western part of the country is also seeing a shorter rainy season. Last year’s brush with catastrophe and now this year’s dip in rainfall align with projections showing that South Africa is largely expected to get drier due to the climate crisis.

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Yessenia Funes is climate editor at Atmos Magazine. She loves Earther forever.

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DISCUSSION

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Whenever I think of water supply, I immediately think of civil engineering. Civil engineering is planning, design, construction and operations of infrastructure stuff. I’m not a civil engineer - I talk with my mouthful at dinner parties. Anyway, upon googling I came across this wonderful paper (published 2018):

Decolonising engineering in South Africa - Experience to date and some emerging challenges

http://www.scielo.org.za/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S0038-23532018000300004

First paragraph from the intro - bolding done by me:

Decolonisation is poorly defined and contentious, particularly when applied in the domain of ‘pure’ sciences.1 However, engineering involves the application of science in society and the political and cultural context has obvious relevance. Here, the implications of the decolonisation discourse for engineering are considered, using the lens of water - an archetypal focus of public policy and management.

later on in the intro the premise of the paper is made:

Two propositions informed the approach. First, was that engineering and the applied sciences are about translating knowledge into action to achieve practical goals. There is wide consensus on the societal goals of ‘water security’3 which avoids a debate about by whom and how goals are determined. The second proposition distinguishes between retrospective approaches which deconstruct colonial norms and values to understand their impact on the present and prospective approaches which consider what to do next. Should the priority be to break down the old or simply to recognise the flawed foundation and build a durable new future, perhaps through a developmental state tasked to achieve a new national vision?

The cases in this study center on Capetown and Johannesburg.

Fast forward, this pretty brilliant statement from the conclusion popped out:

Meanwhile, in the wider community, people will continue to measure society’s progress by turning on the taps in their homes to see whether they can take at least this one of life’s basic needs for granted. For its part, water will continue to teach that the reliability of its flows is determined by people, not hydrology. It will flow when and where needed as a result of the right decisions taken at the right time, informed by the best possible advice. This will often come in large measure from a truly decolonised cadre of engineers that is respected and nurtured by the communities in which it works.