“Day Zero” might sound like the next hit sci-fi flick, but the government warns that this very real threat will “surpass anything a major city has faced since World War II or the Sept.11 attacks,” the New York Times reports. The disaster is expected to hit Cape Town this April.
The city’s water supply is already close to running dry. On Day Zero, “taps in homes and businesses will be turned off until the rains come. The city’s four million residents will have to line up for water rations at 200 collection points.” Hospitals, schools, and other vital institutions will still get water, but the shortage will have an obvious impact on public health and social order.
This is an alarming turn of events for a city known for its strong environmental policies. Cape Town has earned a named for itself for its careful management of water, but even the best practices couldn’t combat a three-year drought. Now, political leaders are coming together to determine the best way to “defeat Day Zero.” Starting in February, residents will be facing harsh lines for exceeding the daily use limit.
It’s not that we didn’t see this coming. Cape Town has been warned for years that it needed to increase and diversify its water supply. The city is almost entirely dependent on six dams and rainfall. The dams are now down to about 26 percent of capacity. That’s a daunting number given that Cape Town is headed toward an even drier future.
“The drier years are expected to be drier than they were, and the wetter years will not be as wet,” one expert told the Times.
“Nature isn’t particularly willing to compromise,” says Mike Muller, South Africa’s former Department of Water Affairs. “There will be severe droughts. And if you haven’t prepared for it, you’ll get hammered.”
Water shortages in Brazil have already affected more than 800 municipalities across the city—the result of climate change, the expansion of agriculture, and poor infrastructure.
“The national government has dragged its feet,” says David Olivier, who is studying climate change.