Water woes

Taryn Pereira, Environmental Monitoring Group

Cape Town has increased its water restrictions to Level 4. This is within the context of a two-year long drought that left dam levels below 20% at the start of June, and consistently high water consumption by Capetonians.Given the critical nature of the drought, these restrictions are too little too late.

Furthermore, they have been unfairly applied, which exacerbates inequality in this divided city. The Level 3b restrictions, which were in place until the end of May, allowed swimming pool owners to top up their pools, while households subjected to water management devices in poor neighbourhoods could not use a drop more than 350 litres a day. Under Level 4 restrictions, citizens are “strongly encouraged” to use 100 litres a person a day but are left to regulate their own consumption.

The physical restriction of significantly less than 100 litres a person a day remains for households of more than three people that have been designated “indigent”.

Cape Town could learn from other municipalities about how to save water in a drought. For example, during the 2009/10 drought, Mossel Bay capped all households’ consumption at 20kl a month, and gave large fines to anyone exceeding this amount.

Their financial investment in water demand management and awareness raising yielded far greater savings (in rands a kilolitre) than their large infrastructural investments in alternative supply, such as a desalination plant.

At the same time as this severe drought drives home the painful reality of water scarcity under climate change, Cape Town plans to take away universal Free Basic Water.

From July 1 it will only available to “indigent” households. This is extremely worrying, as it threatens to remove the safety net of minimal free water for everyone who is not registered as indigent, a process which is itself humiliating and excludes many people who cannot afford water. Contact Taryn Pereira at taryn@emg.org.za