As It Happens

Cape Town's plans to shut off water will mostly hurt poorest residents, local activist warns

Facing drought, Cape Town officials are threatening to turn off the taps on April 21 — a move Axolile Notywala says will disproportionately affect the city's poor.
Sign warning residents of water restrictions is seen in Cape Town, South Africa. The city has now warned that they may have to turn off taps in fewer than 100 days. (Mike Hutchings/Reuters)

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There's panic in Cape Town as the South African city prepares to possibly become the world's first major municipality to run out of water.

Mayor Patricia de Lille announced new water restrictions Thursday to combat the region's worst drought in centuries, saying it's likely the city will have to turn off most taps on April 21, which has been dubbed "Day Zero."

"There's uncertainty … as to what exactly will happen when Day Zero comes," Axolile Notywala, an activist with the Social Justice Coalition in Cape Town, told As It Happens host Carol Off.

"The most affected is clearly going to be the poor."

South Africa's Western Cape region, which includes Cape Town, is suffering a historic drought. (Rodger Bosch/AFP/Getty Images)

The city is also facing major water usage restrictions leading up to Day Zero.

Residents of Cape Town, which is a major tourist destination and a city of 3.7 million people, must use no more than 50 litres of water daily beginning Feb. 1, down from 87 litres currently.

There is a complete ban on watering lawns and gardens, filling pools or washing cars, and people are being told to keep showers under two minutes.

Rich vs. poor

Lille said 60 per cent of residents are "callously" using more than the current limit, and that the city, "can no longer ask people to stop wasting water. We must force them."

But Notywala said that the reason Cape Town is at this point is in large part due to how to government has controlled the water in the poorer areas — known as informal settlements.

"The city has installed water devises where people, if they use a certain amount of water, then their water gets cut off. We have never seen that in rich areas," he said.

"Had the city put those measures in place in an equal manner, we wouldn't be in such a crisis today."

Cape Town City Mayor Patricia de Lille says that the city 'can no longer ask people to stop wasting water. We must force them.' (Rodger Bosch/AFP/Getty Images)

If the reservoir levels drop below 13.5 per cent capacity, the city will turn off the taps and people will have to go to one of 200 municipal sites to collect a maximum daily ration of 25 litres.

Notywala says that people living in informal settlements, which make up 21 per cent of the population of Cape Town, are unsure how this will affect them. They already get their water from these sites.

If the taps dry up, however, residents from the richer areas will have to depend on sites like these as well.

A picture taken on May 10, 2017 shows bare sand and dried tree trunks standing out at Theewaterskloof Dam about 108 kilometres from Cape Town. (Rodger Bosch/AFP/Getty Images)

Notywala's says it's too late to place blame on any residents, and that it's time for the government to work together to create a plan that will help everyone in Cape Town — before Day Zero.

"If there's a plan for the residents of the city of Cape Town, it must be a plan for everyone … whether rich or poor."

— With files from the Associated Press 


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