C Is For Cape Town (Water Crisis)

The most beautiful city in the world. Home of Table Mountain, one of the 7 wonders of the natural world. In the midst of the worst drought ever recorded in the region, it is at risk of running out of water. Rainfall hasn’t been bountiful in the last few years and dams have fallen to alarming levels. Water restrictions are in place, and people have a daily limit of 50 litres of water. With greater awareness and people getting serious about saving water, the so-called ‘day zero’ has been pushed back – the day when the taps will run dry and water trucks will be sent.

View of the Table Mountain upper cable station
©2018 Regina Martins

I travel a lot to Cape Town and in previous years it has been an absolutely beautiful experience flying over the Winelands and fertile valleys. Flying over the area, it now looks like the Karoo has moved all the way to the sea. People talk about desertification, and I can see that happening in that region.

Both degradation and desertification are among South Africa’s most critical environmental issues, intricately linked to food security, poverty, urbanization, climate change, and biodiversity.  Globally, desertification affects 70% of all drylands, and 73% of Africa’s agricultural drylands are degraded.  As much as 91% of South Africa comprises drylands, making it susceptible to desertification. 

Source: Department of Environmental Affairs, State of the Environment report.

I live in Johannesburg, and in the last week, we’ve had enough rainfall to fill the Cape dams 2 times over. Cape Town is a winter rainfall area and I can only hope that this winter will be a wet one for them.

My Cape Town uber driver of a couple trips back said to me as he drove me to the airport:

“Regina, I just want to fill a bath with water and just lie in it.!

People are stockpiling bottled water and there have been reports of fights breaking out in supermarkets to get the last bottles on the shelves.

People have come up with inventive and creative solutions – like a colleague who’s got a hand washing system in the bathroom and kitchen made with just a coke bottle and a thin rubber pipe. I’ve used it and can report that it works very well, uses a negligible amount of water, and is most satisfactory to clean hands:

A handwashing solution…
©2018 Regina Martins


Of course, it’s not just climate change that causes desertification. A lot of it has been driven by human activity. Degradation of previously fertile land, depletion of groundwater supplies, overgrazing and deforestation, to mention just a few.

Integrated land and water management are one of the ways to control the progression of the sands time, protecting soils from erosion and other degradation. Prevention is better than cure because such cures are expensive and yield limited results. 

In seemingly intractable issues, there is no one solution, only a series of next wise moves to shift the system, to make it better than it was, each and every day.



6 thoughts on “C Is For Cape Town (Water Crisis)”

  1. Very informative post! Here in the U.S., there are droughts on the West Coast, especially California, and firefighters are battling forest fires in many places in the west. Whether they were set naturally (such as by lightning) or carelessness (someone’s still-lit cigarette, for example), the effect is the same – devastating!
    Now that winter in South Africa is ending, how is Capetown faring? Did they get a lot of precipitation?

    1. The wildfires are quite devastating, they get reported here in SA, and it’s so sad to see that happen. Cape Town has had its share of fires too, especially in the summer months which are the dry months for that part of the country. They did get a fair amount of rain this winter. Dam levels in Cape Town are up to 65% and restrictions are still in place. There is talk that they will get lowered when dam levels they reach 85%. I think that some form of restrictions needs to remain, even when dams reach 100%. The pressure of reaching ‘day zero’ is gone for now. The Cape is entering its dry months soon, so saving water remains a priority.

  2. It is sad to hear of the effects of the drought in Cape town. It is familiar ground as far as Zimbabwe us concerned. The past two decades have seen the water table drop in Zim.because of persistent droughts which has characterised our climate.
    Population explosion also adds to the complication the more we become the we use a lot if water.
    African governments need to address the shortage of water in a wholesome way. Is there need to control population by encouraging small families we can learn from Singapore. I am sure there are many measures governments can put it place to manage water well.
    Thank you Regina for this post it is something the African continent needs to take seriously. I hope. Cape town will get enough rains this coming winter.I
    Mabel Rudo Nyazika recently posted…WPC – Having fun!My Profile

    1. I hope so too Mabel. And you’re right, such an issue is part of a bigger system and needs to be dealt with holistically. Cape Town can have great rains this year and the drought will lift and everyone will be happy…until the next one comes along…so it needs to be dealt with holistically.

  3. I read about this in the news. It hurts to see what is being done to the planet and the natural resources. Great post 🙂

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