As droughts become more frequent in cities across the world, especially in Africa, the World Wildlife Fund estimates that by 2025, two-thirds of it will be dealing with water shortages. Cape Town, however, is seven years ahead. Following droughts that have spanned a hundred years, Cape Town’s Mayor Patricia de Lille asked her people to limit their water use to no more than 87 liters (almost 23 gallons) a day.

Graph illustrating water use in Cape Town.

Table illustrating average weekly residential water consumption of 641 ml/day, with corresponding percentage of residents that are actively saving water.
Courtesy of City of Cape Town

As part of its “Day Zero” campaign, the city’s municipality is counting down to April 29, “the day the taps will be turned off” unless all Capetonians tune down their water use to 87 liters or less. So far, 34 percent of the Capetonian population (3.74 million) are using 87 liters or less per day. If that percentage doesn’t rise to 100 percent, the coastal city will be forced to turn off the taps since the dams will fall to 13.5 percent capacity. Thus would likely result in a situation where Capetonians will have to carry empty jugs to collect their water at checkpoints around town. As of January 2, Cape Town’s dams are hovering at 31% of their storage capacity, with a weekly trend of -1 percent. According to the statistics provided by the municipality, Cape Town’s progress on securing alternative water sources is behind schedule.

Cape Town's progress on finding alternative water resources.

Cape Town’s progress on finding alternative water resources.
Courtesy of City of Cape Town

As a coastal city, Cape Town’s water also caters to the surrounding municipalities in the Western Cape. The South African capital accounts for around 64 percent of water use from the Western Cape Water Supply Scheme. Evaporation contributes to approximately 15 percent of water use during the summer months. Dam levels are impacted by a number of factors, such as runoff from rainfall, transfers from other catchments, agricultural releases, and evaporation.

African cities are among the most vulnerable to risks influenced by climate change, especially when it comes to water-related risks. Although the continent accounts for only 3.8 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, climate change has a detrimental impact on Africa’s agriculture and therefore on its people’s livelihoods. Africa is highly dependent on low-productivity agriculture for food, income, and employment, with agriculture accounting for about 30 to 40 percent of GDP. About 80 percent of Africans remain dependent on low-yielding, rain-fed agriculture.

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