Guest essay by Eric Worrall
Cape Town is running very short of water – so short authorities expect to switch off the taps in July. But the problems were not caused by global warming.
Cape Town is approaching drought ‘Day Zero’, and climate change could be to blame
As water supplies run low in South African city, analysis by local scientists suggests global warming will make such ‘freak’ events commonplace in years to come
Josh Gabbatiss Science Correspondent Saturday 3 March 2018 14:00 GMT
Cape Town is in the grip of a drought widely regarded as the worst in recorded history – one that could see it become the first city in the world to run out of water.
The city is edging closer to a day – known locally as “Day Zero” – when supplies are so low authorities will have to cut off water to three quarters of the population.
Far from being a hypothetical scenario, Day Zero has a set date. It is currently expected on 9 July.
The perfect storm of conditions that led to this drought, specifically three consecutive years of extremely low rainfall, would generally be expected no more than once in a millennium.
Predicting such “freak” events is tricky for scientists, but one thing is clear: climate change appears to have played a significant role in the Cape’s current misfortune, and it is set to make such events far more likely in the years to come.
Back in the real world, the Cape Town water crisis has a more mundane explanation;
The cause of the crisis
The civil society group, South African Water Caucus, reveals that national government’s reluctance to release drought relief funding stemmed from spiralling debt, mismanagement and corruption in the national Department of Water and Sanitation.
This claim is supported by the Auditor General, which attributes “irregular and fruitless and wasteful expenditure” to the department exceeding its 2016-2017 budget by R110.8 million.
Had systems in national government been running smoothly, Cape Town’s water crisis could have been mitigated. Appropriate water allocations would have made more water available to Cape Town. And with timely responses to disaster declarations, water augmentation infrastructure could have been up and running already.
Cape Town teaches us that water crises are rarely a matter of rainfall. Understanding disasters like droughts involves seeing the issue from many different perspectives, including politics.
There is no doubt Cape Town is suffering an unusually severe drought – but unusually severe droughts occur sometimes in drought prone areas.
What is obvious is the current water crisis would have been far more manageable if the South African Government had done more to root out waste, corruption and gross incompetence.