Day Zero: Every drop counts in Cape Town

There’s only mist coming out of the tap, and that’s as much as you can get. Cape Town is expecting a severe water crisis and is saving every drop of water to escape day zero.

It seems like a science fiction storyboard. On April 21st 2018, the city of Cape Town will move into Emergency Stage 3. On this day, households and businesses will be cut off of water supply. Taps are running dry. Toilets too. Normal services will be off limits, as there won’t be enough water to wash your hands. Day Zero is a calculated day according to the city’s current water reserves. And today, nobody knows how long Day Zero will last. If you are interested in this topic, take a look at this document prepared by WWF – click here.

Preparation and information everywhere you go

Everywhere you go in South Africa, you will find posters informing about the water crisis. How to save water, why to use hand sanitizer instead of washing your hands, how to not have your hotel wash your towels every day and the story continues. But how do public places and hotels really react to the water crisis? Do they really do something about it?

Well, during our three weeks journey through South Africa, we have experienced very different approaches. There are restaurants and hotels requesting to use only the provided hand sanitizer instead of activating the tap. However, taps are still working. We have experienced hotels covering their bathroom walls and entrance halls with notes about the water crisis and to raise awareness. Yet, they exchanged our towels every single day – even though we didn’t want them to. Hotels still have full swimming pools and proudly present them to their guests.

Cape Town – the end of the road

Then we arrived in Cape Town. Cape Town really seems to prepare itself for Day Zero in April. People are still hoping that it won’t be the end of the road. However, if people continue consuming water at the current amount, it’s inevitable. Still, in Cape Town it was a whole lot different from what we have seen throughout the rest of the country:

  • Hotels turn their water taps off – there is only mist coming out and they only provide sanitizer
  • Airport and restaurant restrooms turn off their taps and provide sanitizers only
  • Bigger restrooms with a number of taps only activate one of them and posters still ask people not to use it
  • Hotels put buckets in their showers to catch waste water and the water dripping off their guests to be used for flushing toilets
  • Toilets are flushed with waste water from kitchens
  • Table Mountain transports water tanks up and down by cable car to use the water most efficiently and the restaurant on top of the mountain does not use proper dishes and cutlery anymore to avoid washing
  • Restaurants stop using washable serviettes and provide environmentally friendly one-way variations
  • Hotels have emergency containers with 25 litres of water per room only to be used in an emergency

This is only a glimpse of what we have seen. In this area, everybody is happy on a rainy day, as it means that the rainwater tanks are filling up. I cannot imagine what people are going through with April 21st hanging over them like the sword of Damocles. I always thought that I was consciously using our natural resources. But in Cape Town I learned how to use water consciously – how to use every single drop wisely, how to cope with not washing my hands after putting on sun screen. First world problems, right?

When we got home, it seemed odd to just turn on every tap and to know that there will be no water shortage in Switzerland. People in Cape Town share bucket lists on how to save water most efficiently… we are sharing travel bucket lists. Food for thought …