'The drought is real' - World Wide Fund for Nature

News24 - Friday 9th March, 2018
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Cape Town - While the announcement that Day Zero has been pushed back was met with scepticism by some, a water expert has warned that the drought in Cape Town is real.

DA leader Mmusi Maimane announced on Wednesday that Day Zero might not happen in 2018, but only if Capetonians continued to save water.

There were rumours that the crisis was not as bad as it was made out to be and that it had been used to score political points.

READ: Cape Town may avoid Day Zero this year - Maimane

However, Christine Colvin, senior manager of fresh water for the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), said the drought is real and that Cape Town tops the list of countries in the world that are most at risk of water shortages, based on consumption versus availability.

"Despite the political argument and blame-gaming of the last six months, on the whole, the authorities have, at the 11th hour, done what they needed to do," said Colvin.

"The indicator #DayZero is a much maligned, blunt instrument - it is very basic. But it has performed its function in terms of focusing the public's attention on a real boundary and something that is not completely made up," she said.

"Everybody came to the party, across the board. The situation was politicised, but the Department of Water and Sanitation has done their part in enabling the farmers who succeed in their curtailment, and holding the agricultural sector to a much more stringer curtailment than us in Cape Town."

READ: Water restrictions may be reviewed at a later stage - Neilson

Colvin believes Cape Town has achieved what many major cities in the world had not been able to do, by setting the daily consumption target of 50 litres per person per day.

California in the US, also on the list of places most at risk of drought, only managed an average of 132 litres per person per day.

Colvin was part of a trip to the Theewaterskloof Dam, the main water supplier to Cape Town, on Wednesday.

"It was a hive of activity with people drilling into the sand and working out how to get the last 10% of the water."

With her on the trip was former mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, who has been appointed as the United Nations secretary general's Special Envoy for Climate Action.

'Drought should be a wake-up call'

"The extreme drought here in Cape Town should be a wake-up call for all who think that climate change is some far-off threat," Bloomberg said in a statement released after the visit.

"It's already here, it's making droughts and storms more dangerous, and we've got to do more to keep it from getting worse. Cities and businesses are helping to lead the way, but all levels of society in all countries - on all continents - must take bolder actions. We cannot let droughts like this become common around the world."

Colvin said Cape Town's success to date was because households have changed the way they get and use water.

In the rush to convert to boreholes, grey water systems and rain water harvesting, there may have been some "over capitalisation" by private households, but this will pay off for long-term water consumption.

Even businesses have made the Jojo water storage tanks a normal sight on their properties.

On the bleaker side, a proportion of the population is permanently living under Day Zero conditions, with no access to sanitation, she added.

"The fact that we have halved our normal levels, from over 1 000Ml to just over 500Ml per day, is an incredible effort," she said.

"We've taken the view that this is part of our future, this is the new normal," said Colvin.