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Cape Town Water Crisis & Its Consequences

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Cape Town water crisis“How and to what extent did the Cape Town water crisis brings problems to the city and the country?”


Cape Town, home to approximately 4 million people, listed as the 10th most populous city in South Africa. Cape Town is a coastal city located in the South West region of South Africa, a coordinate of approximately 33.9249°S, 18.4241 The water crisis began in 2014, when the captured amount of rainfall in the Western Cape has experienced a dramatic decreased. Due to the severity of the crisis, it has been noted as a “national disaster” by the South African government. It was at this crucial point where taps were expected to fully dry out, or also known as “Day Zero.”


During specific and crucial months, Cape Town receives rainfall that fill the dams with water. These dams, also known as reservoirs, are the main water supply of Cape Town. Since 2014, the rainfall has gradually decreased year after year, and has led to a prolonged drought in Cape Town. This substantial decrease in the supply of water and an inevitable “Day Zero”, has led to the municipal authority telling the residents to minimise excess demand by reducing their water consumption (Muller, 2018).

Cape Town has 6 major dams installed that supply the majority of water to the city and people. They are known as the “big 6”, holding approximate 99.6% of water capacity in the city while the rest are stored in minor dams. Figure 2 is a line graph that illustrates the total water storage level in the “Big 6” from May 1st, 2014 to September 1st, 2018. It can be seen from this graph that there is a negative correlation between the total water storage of the Big 6 and the dates listed which are the period of drought in figure 2. Specifically, there was a calculated 79.3% decrease of water stored in the Big 6 between Oct 1st, 2014 and May 1st, 2018. Figure 2: Graph illustrating total water storage in given months. If Day Zero do comes which was dated indefinitely after it was postponed in May, 2018, the city will have to decrease their average water consumption from 522 million litres per day to only 43 million litres per day (Luxande & Mdunyelwa, 2018). Conclusively, the water crisis has affected both the Capetonian, but also to the whole country itself.

What makes it a problem?

The water crisis has caused negative influences to the welfare of the 4 million Capetonian, by disrupting different sectors of businesses and exacerbating the effects of poverty resulting in negative effects to the city’s/country’s revenue. For example, the households in Cape Town were allocated to only 50 litres of water each day. This has led to different lifestyle changes such as reduction to four minutes showers, reduction in toilet flushing (if it is yellow, let it mellow), and restriction to car wash and gardening. The sudden change of lifestyle to households has led to huge inconveniences. These inconveniences exuberated the effects of inequalities within the country itself. For the rich, they were able to gain access for water in many other ways such as: borehole digging, purchasing technological filters, and buying bottle waters. With one of the highest GINI coefficient around the world, South Africa has a poor population that is all the more vulnerable from the lack of water access (Sieff, 2018).

Different sectors of businesses were also affected by the crisis. City/country wise, it resulted in a significant reduction in businesses that heavily rely on water such as: hair salons, car wash services, and gardening services. In particular, the tourisms industry were affected significantly, which is one of the main revenues of the country. The tourism sector contributes approximately 7.5% of the city’s gross domestic production calculated in 2016 by the World Travel and Tourism Council. According to Stats SA, there was only 2.6% growth in the tourism sector in 2016 (Smith, 2017). This is considered a poor improvement as the global average was 7%. Furthermore, the number of overseas tourist has increased less than 1% in December 2017, taken into consideration the significance of the water crisis (Smith, 2017).

As a result, many whom were working in this sector were plagued by unemployment issues due to the crisis. Furthermore, the economy itself was alerted when its rating was threatened by the ratings agency Moddy’s. Cape Town was at the edge of being rated as junk status, which some believed it will affect the country’s entire rating. According to Anthony Turton, a professor at the University Free State, he claims that “there is no way that any foreign investor will invest a cent into a country that cannot supply basic water and energy” (Tshwane, 2018). 1.3 Severity of the droughtReturn period is a term used to describe the estimated recurrence interval of something happening such as earthquake, drought, flood, etc. Through the scientist’s analysis of data of the rainfall areas of WCWSS dams (Western Cape Water Supply System), it is concluded with strong confidence that this drought comes between 105 and 1280 years.

Calculations and data show that the 2015-2017 dry period has been the driest since 1933; it is significantly rare and severe (Wolski 2018). The depletion of the reservoir has imposed conspicuous concern to the lives in the nation. In May 2018, the city has measured the Big Six to be storing approximately 20.9% of its capacity. If it was to drop further to approximately 13.5%, Day Zero will be announced (Luxande & Mdunyelwa, 2018).1.4 Root Causes The weather phenomenon known as “ENSO” has led to a global weather pattern shift towards the easterly direction (Trenberth). As a result, instead of the summer rainfall regions being located in areas of South Africa, it has shifted more towards the Southern Indian Ocean and the Madagascar (Hedrick & Dimmich, 2015). The drought has worsened by leaps and bounds due to climate change.

According to Chris Funk, who is a climate scientist at the University of California Santa Barbara, he claims that in recent years there has been a decrease in “long rain”. In normal years, Africa, in particular East Africa receives less rainfall because warm wet air rises from the Western Pacific, and dry cool air sinks around East Africa. In the past decade, the temperature of the western pacific water has been warmer than the average. This is directly linked to enhanced greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, enhancing the severity of droughts in Africa (Baragona, 2017).

The failure and lack of governmental regulations has also contributed to the problem. Primarily, both the local government and the country’s government did not handle the problem effectively, allowing the excess demand to continue. Farmers and other large businesses continued to use the water supply, and the governments did not speak upon it because they underestimated the severity of the water crisis. Ultimately, the lack of infrastructure (number of dams) indicates that Cape Town was determine to fail as the city at the first place since the city relies purely on rainfall for their water resource.


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  4. Muller, M, (2018, July 06). Cape Town’s drought: Don’t blame climate change. Retrieved September 14, 2018, from
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  7. Smith, C. (2017, December 29). Tourism contribution to Cape Town on the increase – WTTC report. Retrieved September 13, 2018, from
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