Cape Town, South Africa is experiencing an unprecedented water shortage. However, major international (particularly American) news outlets have been sensationalizing the water crisis and misrepresenting many locals’ sentiments.
I was nervous to commit to studying abroad in Cape Town for four and a half months with the looming threat of “Day Zero, ” that is, the day the city shuts off the taps. But it took me less than 24 hours after my arrival to realize that most locals are a lot less worried than CNN is making them out to be.
The drought has definitely shaped my experience for the better. I have been forced to reconsider my treatment of a necessity as a luxury. Lazy 10-minute showers dump gallons and gallons of drinking water down the drain. Come to think of it, that’s pretty ridiculous.
So I’ve been living like the locals. The city has imposed Level 6B water restrictions, which limits personal use to 50 litres per day, including a 90-second shower and one toilet flush per day. Sure, at first this can seem daunting, but I have since figured out the key to the start-stop shower**, and I’ve always been a fan of “if it’s yellow, let it mellow.”
Another effect of the drought is how people stay hydrated. Restaurants are discouraged from serving tap water to patrons. There is a push to drink plastic bottled water, which is imported often from other, less affected regions of the country or continent. This switch to bottled water then poses a new environmental dilemma: the proliferation of plastics which persist in the environment indefinitely versus the immediate threat of the water shortage compromising safety and livelihoods. The city is erring on the side of the latter.
I recognize that my experiences in Cape Town are not reflective of the entirety or even the majority of the city’s population. Socioeconomic status is a big indicator for how you are handling the situation. For some, the drought is much harder hit. For others, life with little to no fresh water is no different than before the crisis. There already exist a few public water springs around the city that some rely on as their primary source of drinking, cooking, and shower water.
If Day Zero does come, this will be how all Capetonians survive the crisis, but luckily estimates for the dreaded day have been pushed back to June now, which will be at the start of the cities rainy winter season.
**How make the most out of a 90-second shower: start the water, let it collect in a bucket as it warms up, rinse yourself off, turn off the water while you soap up, turn it back on to rinse, etc., letting the water collect in the bucket the whole time, then re-use the bucket of greywater to flush the toilet by dumping it into the bowl