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Lessons Learned by Cape Town’s Day Zero

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(Gloucestercitynews.net)(February 18, 2020)--“Day Zero” is the now infamous term used to describe an emergency plan put forth by the leadership of the city of Cape Town, South Africa during the worst recorded drought in over a century. In mid-2017, several factors contributed to Cape Town’s water supply reaching dangerously low levels.

Day Zero, if it was ever implemented, would have meant barring the water supply from public use so that it could be rationed daily. Until the city’s dams naturally replenished, Day Zero could have destroyed Cape Town’s buzzing tourist industry and its inhabitants’ way of life.

Water queues and widespread shortages were a reality that many businesses and civilians in Cape Town were very close to facing.

Knowing the causes of Cape Town’s Day Zero and why it never happened can teach us about the resilience and resourcefulness of the leadership and people of Cape Town. Additionally, observing their conservation efforts can help us progress in our own.

What caused Day Zero?

By 2017, Cape Town had experienced a population growth rate of almost 50%, according to its census data. However, the water storage capacity for the city had only increased by 15% over that same amount of time.

The widening gap between how much water was being pulled from the reserves and how much was being replenished created a situation where Cape Town’s supply was vulnerable to environmental disasters. New dams could not be built fast enough to offset the rising water usage in the city and the dearth of rainfall.

This disaster came subtly, in the form of record low rainfall in 2015, coupled with increased water usage by the people of the city owing to the population. As the reserves continued to drop, by mid-2017 Day Zero became the name of the plan that the city would have had to initiate if the water levels in the main storage dams reached below 13.5%.

Preventing Day Zero

The worst water crisis in modern history would have entailed daily water queues and rations, strict conservation of all public utilities, and reconstruction of the major waterways. No city has ever undertaken the depth of control that Day Zero would have required of Cape Town’s civilian and tourist population.

Thankfully, Cape Town reversely proved its resilience in the face of disaster by pushing Day Zero back continuously until it was postponed indefinitely in early 2018.

Thanks to water usage education initiatives distributed by the Cape Town city departments, the population got immediately on board with the effort to conserve the dangerously low water stores. The diligence and conscientiousness of the people lowered water usage by 50% by rationing showers, limiting water-based hygiene, and eliminating water usage for recreation.

Today, according to the Cape Town website, the city’s dams are holding at 70.3% of their reserve capacity. This makes Day Zero well out of the realm of possibility for the time being.

Effects of the Water Crisis

The businesses, tourists, industry professionals, leadership, and population of Cape Town rallied together to save their water supply. Today, the result is a much more environmentally cognizant city infrastructure. Their waterways have been refined for efficiency and their drainage and water recreation facilities have been modernized.

Not every city could reform its habits so quickly. The Cape Water Strategy is the latest progressive initiative designed to restructure the city’s water usage systems and dam storage capacity to prepare for another future disaster.

With populations growing all over the world, the conservation efforts of Cape Town are a model for any city leadership or population on how to manage a crisis and avoid disaster.

The Takeaway

The possibility of Day Zero happening in Cape Town was a result of stressed resources in a region already environmentally unstable due to population growth, a naturally dry climate, and erratic rainfall patterns. A few issues like a dry spell and a population boom culminated in what could have been the worst water disaster in any developed city in the modern world.

Instead, Cape Town rallied itself around conservation and survived the water shortage. Their concerted efforts to save themselves and their infrastructure are lessons that any city can learn from.

Now, a booming tourist destination and investment opportunity, the productive and resilient city of Cape Town is back to its former glory and then some. Before canceling a visit because of this near disaster, understand what preventing it means for the future of the city: progressively better infrastructure, cognizant people, and productive leadership.

The handling of the water crisis is proof of them all.