When the taps run dry
Midwinter in the Cape. On a typical working day, over the top of my PC display, through the window I’d see the trees across the road being lashed by wind and rain. This year, I’m seeing a sky that’s blue and only the flimsiest leafy twigs are – at best – giving me a feeble excuse for a wave. Not good news. Particularly on the back of the City of Cape Town’s decision to finally cave in and do what it should have done ages ago: implement water restrictions that really, really hurt. Even if, for some, the freshly mandated hundred litres a day ... show Moreper body is sheer luxury. And even if rules without enforcement are futile.
Back in December 2015, our wide-ranging report from the water war frontlines proclaimed: “Drought is the new normal”. The future of water supply in South Africa, we said, is a twisted tale of corporate, social and governmental responsibility and drinking your own wee. Welcome to the future. If this scary future isn’t bad enough, consider the sneaking suspicion that our water poverty may not be driven entirely by urbanisation, El Niño, creaking infrastructure, poor planning and half-hour hot
showers. There’s an awkward question we plan to aggressively address in the near future: can it be possible that even water can be captured? As in, you know, captured?
The bad news is, the prospects are grim. Four years ago, the Institute of Race Relations reported that twothirds of this country’s people live in cities; according
to Gartner, by 2050 that trend will be reflected globally. Throwing money at the problem will help for a time; a change in attitude towards water will help. But the
pressure on resources will only intensify. On the bright side, in the meantime, it’s not like nobody’s trying. Unless I hang out with a bunch of do-gooders, it seems to me that everyone I know is dutifully doing the right thing. Grey water, buckets in showers and letting it mellow because it’s yellow are the norm. Gardens are dying or dead. Clothes are being aired and pressed for that just-washed look. (Investment tip: now’s the time to buy perfume shares.)
I’ve been around a while, and this is the worst I can recall it being. To be honest, unless you come up with some smart thinking, there’s not a lot you can do when the rains just don’t come. The best you can do is put off the day when the taps run dry.
The good news: resourceful folk are indeed hard at it. Two of this month’s letters explore potential solutions; and entries to Do It Your Own Way continue to include hints for saving and re-using water. In their own way commendable, but as the saying goes, you can’t save yourself out of debt. It’s often been said that the next war will be fought over water. That may be true, though not necessarily in war as fought between rival national powers. More likely – certainly in the initial skirmishes – that war
will be fought from within. There are signs that those first few skirmishes may already have left casualties and permanent scars. It’s up to us survivors to commence
battle, so we maintain irreproachable stewardship over this precious resource.
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