I am back in Cape Town for a few months and I realized that the city is quite empty. Not empty empty but empty for it being high season. I can tell by the fact that most of the restaurants which are usually booked out far in advance still have tables available, often short notice. Uber drivers tell me business is down and while I don’t have any concrete numbers anybody working in or with the tourism industry tells me the same. We can speculate about the reasons but for most, it seems to boil down to the aftermath of the Cape Town water crisis.
This to me is mind-boggling and the reason why I decided to write a little update on this post because basically, the Cape Town water shortage is over. However, there seems to be a severely delayed reaction happening to the Cape Town water restrictions when it comes to tourism and I think the media is not innocent. Footage has been circulating of people standing in line waiting for water which turned out to be a) old and b) not accurate either as it depicts a favorite spring that residents frequently use to get water from because it tastes good.
Compared to last year residents are asked to use 105 l or less per day which seems an excessive luxury compared to the 35 l we were allocated at the worst of times in December 2017. Graphs from the City of Cape Town show that residents aren’t even using all the water they could and Cape Town dam levels are still at a whopping 59%.
This is good news not just for locals but also for visitors which is something the city desperately needs now. A decline in tourism is rather bad in cities like Cape Town which is so seasonal that a lot of businesses make the majority of their income during the summer months.
As it is I think that the Cape Town water crisis was a scary lesson in how we treat the resources in our world and what scarce commodity water has become. I don’t think I or anyone else in Cape Town will ever take it for granted again, as something that just runs freely out of a tap, and I understand now how privileged I am to even make such a statement. Maybe it was a necessary wake up call to rethink my own behavior not just during a crisis but in general when it comes to my water consumption. With that said, if you come to my place and find that I haven’t flushed the toilet – sorry but not sorry!
And to make it very clear if you are thinking of coming to South Africa – do it! Whatever is left of the Cape Town water crisis will not affect the average tourist at all and this beautiful city could use a few more visitors right about now.
Original post from February 2018: By now it is not so new anymore, but there is a severe Cape Town water crisis going on at the moment. However, as it is still quite unprecedented that a major city will run out of water in the not so far future a lot of people still struggle to wrap their head around it what that really means. And visitors need to know that the current Cape Town water restrictions will impact on their holiday.
That doesn’t mean you should come because after all, Cape Town’s economy does depend on tourism, but there are a few things visitors need to be aware of because unfortunately, money cannot buy you water here at the moment (so some rich wankers, sorry no other word for them, still like to think that way).
What has brought on the current Cape Town water crisis?
There is much speculation happening on why the situation about the Cape Town water shortage has become so dire and I am not qualified to go into details so I actually prefer not to add to the finger-pointing. Fact is, that the usual winter rainfall in Cape Town has been pretty much absent for the past three years leading to the Western Cape dam levels shrinking significantly. Should the Cape Town dam levels hit 13,5%, the City of Cape Town will turn off the taps. This is now called Day Zero and is currently scheduled for April 16th, 2018. The date is changing constantly and you can find up to date information here.
I found this article on National Geographic very informative to explain the hows and whys without finger pointing as to whose fault the current Cape Town water crisis is. Give it a read as I think it also puts the issue into a global perspective.
What is the city doing to help with the Cape Town water crisis and to avert Day Zero?
- Three temporary desalination plants are being built and will start producing water by March/April. They will not be able to produce enough water to completely avoid Day Zero but it will help to bring drinking water into the system.
- Additionally, aquifers are set to be used and are said to be more cost and time effective.
- Interestingly enough the Cape Town water shortage isn’t due to a large population in the city’s informal settlement. In fact, most townships use less water than currently mandated even before these regulations came into place. Unfortunately, some people think money can buy anything and just don’t give a damn, don’t realize that we are all in this together and that everyone needs to do their part to save water. With that said, the City of Cape Town is monitoring water consumption and residences that use too much will be fined or have water management devices installed.
- When I arrived the allowed usage per person per day was still 87 liter. This has gone down to 50 liters since February 1st (less than one-sixth of what the average American uses!).
- Many households are putting wellpoints and boreholes into place and most people by now collect their greywater, spring- or rainwater. Mind you, many outdoor water-related activities like watering your lawn, washing your car or refilling your pool are now forbidden.
- If Day Zero cannot be averted and the taps are turned off, the City of Cape Town is putting a plan into action for people to collect daily water allowances.
What does the current Cape Town water crisis mean for visitors?
The other day I was having lunch at the beautiful new Silo Hotel at the V&A Waterfront and saw a sign in their bathroom listing all the measures they have taken to help with the Cape Town water shortage. What struck me was that they had removed all their plugs to the bathtubs. Good thinking! I was under the impression that some rich tourist, forking out at least ZAR 30,000 for a room wasn’t keen to help save water and still wanted a bath (the views from their bathtubs are gorgeous!). However, a friend told me that it was, in fact, a famous Cape Town travel blogger who had posted an Instagram of herself taking a bath there last year and subsequently started a shit storm for the hotel (and probably herself). I don’t know if the story is true but yeah, bathing is a thing of the past in Cape Town and visitors do need to be aware that when they come here they need to do their part.
- The City of Cape Town is asking people to keep showers under 90 seconds which, having been here for two months now, seems incredible luxurious to me. Sponge bath or the good old wet-soap-rinse techniques with tabs turned off in between seems to be the way to go.
- Wet wipes, hand sanitizers, and dry shampoo are your friends.
- No brushing your teeth and leaving the water running. Duh!
- Reuse your towels and your clothes. Especially when you are staying at a hotel this is important to remember. I find that while hotels often make a point of trying to save water and only wash towels when requested, I still get new towels even though I didn’t want any. With that experience, I make it a point to ask housekeeping to make sure they let me reuse my towels (not only in Cape Town but anywhere).
- If it’s yellow let it mellow to save water when it comes to flushing the toilets. It helps to put toilet paper in a bin and if you are visiting someone’s home or a restaurant don’t be shy to ask what their policy on flushing is. At this point, people are quite used to sharing intimate details of their bladder with strangers.
- I have seen a lot of posts that recommend using paper plates and drinking only bottled water and I really don’t like it. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely understand that this might become a necessity. Stores have already restricted their bottled water sales to a certain amount per person and the city is trying to make sure that companies don’t price gouge. But they also had to have talks on what to do with the extra plastic waste with so many more water bottles being used and therewith lies the problem: the amount of waste being produced and the fact that companies who bottle water and sell it for horrendous prices are two big global issues. The Cape Town water crisis just shows what a scarce commodity water is becoming and how it can affect us all. So yes, I understand it might become a necessity, however, for the time being, I still like to be really mindful of not producing too much extra waste. And, of course, when in doubt – drink wine instead of water!
More questions about the Cape Town water crisis and what you can do to help? Reading this list with more tips and restrictions from the City of Cape Town and feel free to ask away in the comments – I will do my best to answer you or find you an answer.
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