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Environment Drought Cape Town South Africa

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Drought-hit Cape Town imposes new water restrictions

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Cape Town Andrew Massyn/CC/Wikimedia

Cape Town brought in new restrictions on the use of water on 1 January, as South Africa's Western Cape region faces its worst drought in a century.


The newly implemented "level six" restrictions to face the worst drought that has affected the Western Cape region in 113 years differ depending on who you are:

  • Nobody can use the city's drinking water to water their garden, fill swimming pools or wash cars;
  • Farmers have had to reduce consumption by 60 percent compared to the corresponding period pre-drought (in 2015);
  • Institutions and businesses are required to cut their consumption almost in half.
  • As for residents, they may not use more than 87 litres per person per day in total, which is not even enough for a 10-minute shower.

Involving tourists in saving water

Lee Harris, the manager of the Backpack Hotel in Cape Town, told RFI that she tries to involve tourists in water saving.

She has put a 40-litre bucket of water in the hotel's hall for people to get an idea of what the amount represents. Information boards are also present in every room.

"We explain that no baths are allowed and that showers should not last longer than two minutes, that they should use a cup to brush their teeth and not let the water run. Or that they should not flush for just a wee," she explains.

Companies affected

The shortage also means difficulty for companies that need water for their business.

Some can apply for exemptions, but only for health or security purposes, as is the case for care facilities or abattoirs.

These exemptions don't apply if you run a carwash, like Cliff Bauermeister.

But the drought is not a problem for him because he uses waterless products in his Perfect Car carwash.

"I've actually seen a 30 percent increase in business over the past eight months because many of my competitors who use water had to close down" he explains.

He also saves money in advertising since the city and government services are promoting his water-free carwash for him.

Day Zero

The countdown has begun to what people in Cape Town are calling "Day Zero" when the city's six major reservoirs are expected to run dry.

So residents are taking the issue really seriously. But the problem is more in water production than water use.

Because of the unprecedented three-year drought, dam levels have dropped to 32 percent.

Day Zero will arrive if they drop below 14 percent. Then supply to most of the city's taps will be turned off and people will have to queue for fresh water at 200 collection points in the city. This could happen as early as late April, if it does not rain.

Water augmentation programmes

Seven programmes are underway to try to find or produce more water.

They include digging boreholes or desalinisation schemes.

"We are building two desalinisation plants and each one will bring on about seven million litres per day but people will now have to get used to the fact that water will never be in abundance again and we must save it at all time," Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille warns.

Besides, not every Cape Town resident is cooperating. Some 200,000 households are still using more than four times the authorised amount, according to the city, which has started putting water-management systems on their property, in the hope of ensuring that Day Zero never comes.