Tick tock, the water clock

The contortions in our national politics notwithstanding, all eyes are on Cape Town and the countdown to Day Zero, which at current consumption levels will happen on Thursday April 12.

On that apocalyptic day, most people who get water from the City of Cape Town (CoCT) will be cut off, with the exception of the City Bowl, industrial areas, hospitals, clinics, some other essential services, and informal settlements.

The 200 water collection points planned by the CoCT, located at sites which can successfully be serviced by the water reticulation system, will come on stream, and the citizenry will have to stand in line with one 25l container per person to collect their daily ration of water.

Although the collection points vary in the number of dispensing points that can be used simultaneously, with an estimated population of 1.74 million, each collection point will have to service 18 700 people on average each day.

According to mayoral committee member for safety and security, JP Smith, speaking on talk-radio on Monday morning – as an aside, the political infighting in the DA means who you’re likely to hear speaking officially about Day Zero varies with alarming regularity – it will be permissible for one person to collect on behalf of three other people.

Assuming that this is intended to reduce pressure on each collection point – an individual collecting for a family of four – will there be some form of verification system to avoid one person collecting 100l for their own use?

And if so, precisely how will that verification system work?

And although it may well reduce traffic at collection points, it will inevitably slow down the process, which defeats the purpose of allowing one to collect for four in the first place.

And what of the elderly and the infirm, in particular those who live alone?

Mr Smith did say that the City is assembling a cohort of volunteers who will undertake to get water to such people, but he was worryingly thin on the detail of how many – if any – have signed up, or the logistics of how that system will function.

At the water indaba convened last May, by premier Helen Zille, the meteorologists made it clear that the confidence level in their rainfall forecasting models was at an all-time low.

It should, therefore, have come as no surprise that the seasonal rainfall forecast for the 2017 winter – the South Western part of the Western Cape was expected to experience above normal rainfall, while the eastern part and the Northern Cape was expected to experience normal rainfall – did not materialise.

Nonetheless, an alarming number of people seem to think that somehow or other the drought will be broken and rain will miraculously fall before Day Zero arrives.

The bad news is, that it’s just not going to happen.

Even if we do have torrential rainfall in the next few weeks in the catchment areas, the dams will not miraculously fill up. Estimates by the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) show that it will take up to five years of good rainfall for the six major supply dams to fill up.

As much as this drought is classified as a black swan event – it is a one in 400 year event for which is it well nigh impossible to plan – five years good rainfall would also be such a black swan event.

In other words, it just ain’t gonna happen.

DWS minister Nomvula Mokonyane’s disingenuous assertion while addressing the Cape Town Press Club on Sunday that the drought crisis must be depoliticised notwithstanding, the self-defeating obsession with finger-pointing at the three tiers of government that have all failed the citizens of Cape Town, really must come to an end.

A mea culpa maxima from each tier of government – of which there is zero chance – will do little to stave off Day Zero, as little as a recitation of detailed plans designed to avoid this happening again, once we have hauled ourselves out of this particular pile of smelly brown stuff.

The paucity of detail in the CoCT’s Day Zero plans makes it abundantly clear that while it is doing all it can, it is hoping fervently that the only people who can actually do something to stave off Day Zero, you and me, will act.

If we accept that around 60% of Capetonians are not doing their bit to save water – and it is difficult to refute that assertion when our daily consumption continues to average around 600 megalitres – then our only hope is that everybody will finally wake up to the realisation that if we do not all get our daily consumption under 50l each, we’ll be queueing for 25l a day each instead.

And if you think that surviving on 50l a day – the new limit imposed by level 6b water restrictions which comes into effect tomorrow, Thursday February 1 – is going to be tough, you don’t even want to contemplate 25l a day.

Our Doomsday Clock is ticking, and it is up to each and every one of us to make sure that Day Zero, our midnight, does not arrive.

The solution is in our hands. Let’s do it.