By Devyani Patra
A couple days ago, I was casually browsing through the numerous news articles until I came across one that shocked me. “In Cape Town, ‘Day Zero’ is coming very soon – the day the water runs out.”
In 2018, whether some of us believe in global warming or not, there is a common understanding that something about our climate and extreme temperatures is not right. In fact, the diagrams below display the number of countries that are aware of climate change and think that it is a serious threat.
Cape Town, a large city located in South Africa, is said to be “facing its worst drought in a century, with its water supply expected to run dry” on April 21st. As a result, some sources say that this water crisis is a result of Cape Town’s rapid population growth. In order to adjust to this, the government has imposed a limit of 6.6 gallons of water per person. However, this implementation is still not enough as the reasoning behind how the disabled and elderly will get access to water and how the city will deal with insufficient water to flush the toilets are yet to be supported.
A resident of Cape Town, Brigetti Lim Banda, even said, “I forgo my shower for three days until the fourth day, when I need to wash my hair, so that I can save my water for laundry and so forth.”
An interesting aspect I came across was how eco-friendly and informed the city of Cape Town already was before this crisis was even announced. According to the New York Times, despite Cape Town’s water crisis, they are still welcoming tourists to stay and during their stay, they are increasing the awareness of the water that individuals consume. Hotels like the Hotel Verde (“Green Hotel”) have “placed stickers in bathrooms educating guests on how many glasses of water are used in one bath while also incentivizing guests for good water practices — giving discounts for not requesting ice and glasses and drinking straight from the bottle, for instance.” Additionally, the city even has a “Save Like a Local” campaign where they request visitors to become accustomed to practices that Capetonians are used to – using a bucket when showering and reusing towels and linens so that they aren’t using a fresh one on a daily basis.
In fact, if we look at this crisis in a larger scale, according to the World Resource Institute, by 2040, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, San Marino, Singapore, the UAE, and Palestine will be the most water-stressed countries in the world. Chile, Botswana, and Namibia are all included in the top 33 water-stressed countries by 2040. Since “every water-stressed country is affected by a different combination of factors,” when looking at Chile specifically, high temperatures in critical regions and inconsistent precipitation is what is causing its water supply to decrease. While Botswana and Namibia are water-stressed because of climate change – the temperature in the southern parts of Africa are predicted to be higher than the world’s average increasing the risk of floods, droughts, dryness, and irregular precipitation patterns.
So, what are the factors that caused this result? One of the main causes is population growth because birth rates are decreasing and life expectancy is increasing as countries become more and more developed. The second factor is that the middle class are becoming wealthier. This means that the global water supply will decrease as people will be able to afford water in terms of luxury items, such as pools, and food, such as protein-based diets. Climate change also contributes to the decrease in the global water supply – as “surface temperatures of lakes and rivers to rise,” these bodies of water will evaporate faster. And lastly, pollution in the water decreases the amount of water we have to drink and expose to our bodies.
How can we make a difference? According to the One Green Planet, avoid buying bottled water as “bottled water companies have the obnoxious tendency to steal water from drought-ridden areas.” Therefore, the more profits they gain, the more encouraged the companies feel to continue doing what they are doing. In addition, it is recommended to limit the amount of water wasted. An easy way to accomplish this is by showering for the amount of time needed so that you don’t keep the tap running for long. Another approach that could be taken is to reduce the quantity of meat you consume as animal products require a lot of water to be prepared. In fact, research shows that a beef burger patty uses 15 times the water compared to a soy burger patty of the same size.
Are there any other ways that we could speed up the process in solving this problem? Is the reason why Cape Town was so unprepared partly due to less awareness on the scarcity of water compared to other environmental issues? A solution to this problem is to import water from other countries that aren’t facing the same problem. Is there an alternative long term sustainable solution to this problem other than that?