Commentary: In drought-hit South Africa, the politics of water
Should the water stop, Cape Town — ironically first settled permanently by the Dutch in 1652 because it was considered climatically ideal for a supply station to underpin the Southeast Asian trade of their fleet — will become the world’s first major city in which the taps literally run dry.
Cape Town’s winter rainy season runs from May to August.
Experts initially calculated “Day Zero,” the date upon which there is insufficient water in the Western Cape Water Supply System to push through the pipes to the suburbs and sprawling informal settlements that encircle the city, to be around April 16.
Irrigation usage has declined over the past five years, although there have been criticisms of the national Department of Water and Sanitation for not cutting the agricultural allocation when the prospects of an extended drought became more apparent.
That makes the Western Cape the only provincial government not run by the ruling African National Congress (ANC), which has dominated national politics since winning the country’s first post-apartheid elections in 1994.
The dam supplies most of Cape Town’s potable water.
Western Cape premier Helen Zille, pictured here before casting her vote in South Africa’s 2014 election, says dirty hair should be seen as a status symbol in drought-hit Cape Town.
REUTERS/Sumaya Hisham Water and Sanitation has blamed the other two for not reacting vigorously enough when it became apparent, years ago, that densification — the city’s population has increased by 50 percent in the past decade — was going to strain water supplies.
They, in turn, have accused national government of dragging its feet on capital funding for infrastructure and maintenance, as well as withholding emergency disaster relief funds.
While it is true that all the parties have made blunders, city officials probably shouldn’t be blamed for lack of long-term planning.