Cape Town Headed Towards Waterless Future

by Lucas Joel

The city of Cape Town, South Africa, is bone dry. In 2017, after two straight years of drought, a third drought year offered more of the same. This past January, city leaders announced that they would shut off the taps to the municipal water supply in April because that was when “Day Zero” — the day when the water supply would run dry — was predicted to occur. Day Zero has since been pushed back to sometime in 2019, but, for 4 million Capetonians, living under the specter of a day without water is the new normal, and signs of that reality litter the city. Sometimes literally.


Above a toilet in the bathroom at the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) Future Water Institute (FWI), I found a sign that looked like a board game. “TO AVOID DAY ZERO,” the sign announced in all capital letters. “BE A WEE-WISE WATER WARRIOR! ONLY FLUSH AFTER 4 (No. 1’s only).” In the middle of a pie chart was a plastic arrow that restroom visitors are meant to advance through numbered slices marked one through four — to track the appropriate number of uses..

“It’s raised a lot of issues with our cleaning staff,” says Jessica Fell, a hydrologist at the FWI. “We’ve given them chemicals that they can spray into the toilet bowl, which completely neutralize the smell.”

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