“Day Zero” in South Africa: Cape Town’s Water Crisis

As the year 2018 has progressed, the American public has been overwhelmed with international news concerning nuclear proliferation between the U.S. and North Korea. Although this continues to be a pressing topic, a more realistic threat to humanity as a whole seems to be coming out of Cape Town, South Africa, where the water supply has gotten so low that the city fears it will completely run out of water sometime this summer.  If the city’s water supply continues to decrease at its current rate., the Wall Street Journal reports that Cape Town’s “Day Zero” will come on July 9th. The crisis is largely due to ongoing droughts that have plagued the region for over three years, along with poor governmental control of the original water restrictions placed on the city’s residents. Political instability in South Africa is further decreasing the chances of a successful resolution as the ruling party, the African National Congress, ousted former president Jacob Zuma in favor of current party leader Cyril Ramaphosa. Because of the lack of clean water, the new government must implement new technologies to purify water off the city’s coastline and look to humanitarian agencies to solve the impending crisis. The source of South Africa’s  water crisis can be traced back to climate change and the extreme weather patterns that come from it. The three-year drought endured by the region has caused a 30% decrease in mean rainfall around Cape Town’s reservoirs. The  South African Weather Service reports that last year’s mean rainfall was 17 inches; its lowest total in over 80 years. Consequently, the city’s water reserves are dangerously low. The City of Cape Town estimates that its dams are operating at under 25% capacity. With the shutdown point at 13.5%, there is little room left for the government to maneuver.

This problem has been intensified  by a change in leadership within the country’s executive branch. Jacob Zuma, the now former president of South Africa, was ousted last month after a nine-year reign characterized by a failing economy, increased income inequality, and widespread allegations of corruption. According to the Wall Street Journal, Zuma’s replacement, Cyril Ramaphosa, promised economic reform in his State of the Union Address along with a return to the anti-apartheid policies of Nelson Mandela. Oddly enough, the president neglected to tackle the crisis that could leave most of the city’s 3.74 million citizens without water. If the country is successfully going to solve the water crisis, the government must take proactive measures towards increasing the water supply.

To effectively solve the water crisis in the near future, the government of South Africa could look towards nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to provide aid relief and invest in water purification systems around the city’s coastline. The first line of response will likely come from the Red Cross, as they have been the first NGO on scene in similar situations throughout the continent. Although the organization can defer “day zero” temporarily, there needs to be a long term solution to the problem. Luckily, the answer  lies within its geographical positioning. Cape Town is a coastal city surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean . If South African government invests in water purification technology, the city will be able to survive on its own natural water supply. This can be done through building mobile seawater desalination stations down the coastline. the process of desalination involves  removing salts and minerals from seawater, making the water suitable for consumption. According to Reuters, many private companies throughout the country, such as chemicals group African Explosives and Chemical Industries (AECI), have applied for government contracts to build desalination plants in the region. Such projects would not only solve the water crisis in the country/city, but would also grow the local economy, which currently suffers from a 26% unemployment rate. Although desalination stations are a costly investment , as a recent plant in Dubai was built for $237 million this past year, it is a necessary cost for the government to ensure the long term survival of its citizens.

Cape Town’s water crisis is unlike anything we have seen on the African continent in the modern era. Furthermore, the situation has been under-reported in the U.S. and neglected on the world stage, as shown by the lack of global action taken to resolve the problem so far. Furthermore, recent water issues in the United States, such as California’s recent run of droughts and the Flint water crisis, have raised concerns of similar problems on this side of the Atlantic. Water is the most essential for human survival and should be the first priority for any government facing such an issue. It is imperative that the new president, Cyril Ramaphosa, takes the necessary steps to reach out to both private businesses within the region and NGOs around the world in the hopes of the continued deferral of “day zero.” Under Ramaphosa, the country can begin to rebuild, but it must first provide the bare necessity of water to its people before tackling bigger issues.




“City of Cape Town: Water Dashboard.” City of Cape Town, 8 Mar. 2018,

Steinhauser, Gabriele. “Parched South Africa City Struggles to Avoid 'Day Zero': Water Shutdown.” The Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones & Company, 3 Mar. 2018,

Steinhauser, Gabriele. “New South African Leader Pledges Economic and Political Turnaround.” The Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones & Company, 16 Feb. 2018,

Reuters Staff. “South Africa's AECI Sees Growth in Water Treatment after Drought...” Reuters, Thomson Reuters, 27 Feb. 2018,

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