Putting Cape Town’s Water Crisis into Perspective

A look at the effect on Cape Tonian’s day to day lives and the pre-climate change odds of this happening

Cape Town water crisis - people stand in long line for water

People stand in a long line for water during Cape Town’s water crisis. (Photo by Bram Janssen)

Can you imagine waking up, brushing your teeth, hopping in the shower, and then running out of water for the rest of the day before your shower is even done?

You haven’t even drank any yet! Not to mention going to the bathroom, washing your hands, doing any laundry, washing dishes, etc.

This is the amount of water the people of Cape Town, South Africa are “restricted” to today (13 gallons or 50 liters per person per day). The average 8-minute shower alone uses 17 gallons (65 liters). To put this in perspective, the typical American uses 90 gallons (340 liters) of water per day.

So what’s going on over there??

Capetonian’s have experienced an unprecedented three-year drought. The pre-climate change odds of so little rain in 2016 and 2017 was 1/1,150 or .09%. So extreme that even scientists didn’t see it coming.

In response, the city ramped up water restrictions, declared a national disaster, and even set a “Day Zero”. Had “Day Zero” come, the plan was to turn off the taps of their 4 million citizens which would’ve been a first for a major, developed city. 200 water stations would have been set up around the city. ~12,500 people would’ve lined up daily at each station for their allotted ration (6.5 gallons, 25 liters of water per person).

Thankfully, citizens cut down usage and they got some rain. “Day Zero” was pushed back to 2019. The city is investing heavily in desalination plants.

Needless to say, many citizens no longer take water for granted and have found themselves in some new and unusual situations: turning the water on and off while showering, capturing water during showers to be used for flushing the toilet, and even wondering if they should flush after peeing at a friend’s house.

Cape Town Water Crisis - Government flier

Official government flyer

Water scarcity is increasingly becoming a problem for cities around the world. Leaders need to adjust for the change in risk brought by our new climate. Be grateful for that wonderful water and try not to take it for granted. It is truly precious!

Great 10 minute video and podcast if you want to get a better idea of what Cape Town was/is like in full on water saving mode.


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