How the possibility of Day Zero made us a better place to visit and invest in
Updated: Mar 17
Cape Town and the Western Cape has recovered from the threat of acute water shortages, which presented as a possibility at the end of 2017 and beginning of 2018. Today the City and Province's dams are over 80% full, and collective water consumption is stable at 625 million litres/day, which is within the daily target of 650 million litres. (see latest dam figures here)
The summer period of 2017/2018 was undoubtedly a trying time for the citizens and businesses of Cape Town and the Western Cape, following three years of consecutively low rainfall, resulting in the worst drought in 100 years.
Much of South Africa is arid or semi-arid, and the whole country is subject to droughts and floods. Because of this, variations in rainfall or temperature due to climate change can exacerbate an already stressed environment.
Unprecedented water saving by citizens and businesses
Every day during that period of drought, the resilience of the City and region were tested. Through the heroic efforts of households and businesses, water consumption was reduced by 50% without the reticulation system ever having to be turned off. No city in the world has ever accomplished anything similar, which is a testimony to the quality of leadership and commitment of the people of Cape Town and the Western Cape. The city-region survived, it adapted and is now thriving again.
The impacts of climate change are a global phenomenon. Cape Town and the Western Cape is perhaps more aware than most places on the planet about the need to continually build resilience. The heightened vigilance of the city and regional leaders is an asset that sets it apart from other places in the world.
"While Cape Town and the Western Cape showed a strong capacity for resilience in the face of the drought, it is important that we constantly increase our resilience to a range of future water scenarios," says Gareth Morgan, Director of Resilience at the City of Cape Town.
Adoption of Cape Water Strategy 2019
In the aftermath of the drought, the City of Cape Town adopted the Cape Water Strategy in May 2019. The Water Strategy outlines clearly the City government's commitments to diversifying the supply of water sources, with a variety of projects are already delivering water or about to deliver new water from 2020 to 2024. The City is delivering, very quickly, a robust build programme that meets the needs of economic growth, population growth, while at the same time building even greater capacity to withstand future drought events.
Also, the City of Cape Town approved the Cape Town Resilience Strategy in August 2019. Cape Town is one of only three cities in Africa to have a Resilience Strategy and a dedicated Resilience Department. The department is building responses to a range of shocks and stresses that may occur over time, including climate change.
From reflection to resilience
On reflection, Cape Town and the Western Cape learnt much from the drought and through actions shown. We are on track to potentially become the most resilient place in Africa. Ensuring we have the ability and capacity to manage any crisis.
If another drought does occur, we have put in place measures to be even more resilient.
Actions taken to make Cape Town and the Western Cape resilient
We have become more resourceful, integrated and reflective during the recent drought. Besides new augmentation schemes, supportive regulations have been put in place to allow the responsible use of rainwater, grey-water and groundwater from private boreholes and well-points for non-drinking water purposes. The City has also created 32 draw-off points for treated effluent re-use for alternative /non-drinking use.
We have systems in place that are robust. The Western Cape Water Supply System (WCWSS), a complex system of six inter-linked large dams, pipelines, and tunnels is the bulwark of the region and is a primary reason Day Zero was avoided.
Businesses, citizens and tourists have shown great willingness and ability to change their behaviour during the height of the drought. We are now more than a year past the period when the threat of acute water shortages was real. What we now know is that citizens and businesses have changed their relationship with water. We are more respectful, considerate and mindful. This is evident in our behaviour and in the financial investments made by the public and business to invest in infrastructure that helps to use Cape Town's water more efficiently.
Droughts are cyclical. They occur in almost every region of the world. Cape Town and the Western Cape have taken lessons from the recent drought. They are actively ensuring that the City and Region's ability to withstand future drought events will be stronger. Importantly, Cape Town and the Western Cape has shown the societal ability to be resilient in the face of any event. Making it an attractive place to both visit and invest in.