Located at the southern tip of Africa, South Africa is home to about 58 million people. Although access to clean water has increased since the 1990s, South African government officials announced in 2018 that drastic conservation measures were essential to avoid shutting off Cape Town’s municipal water supply. Known as “Day Zero,” April 12 marked the day South Africa almost experienced the most significant water failure in history. Since the third anniversary of Day Zero recently passed, a closer look at the situation provides more insight into access to clean water in South Africa, with a specific focus on Cape Town.
5 Facts About Access to Clean Water in South Africa
- Limited access to clean water and basic sanitation. More than three million South Africans lack “access to a basic water supply” and more than 14 million South Africans lack “access to safe sanitation.” To address these concerns, the South African government is working to conserve wetlands and inform the public on the importance of water conservation for the future.
- Conserving water is key. To conserve water, Cape Town residents each survive on about 27 gallons per day. Residents adhere to water restrictions by using greywater to flush toilets and only using water for essential purposes. In comparison, a U.S. citizen typically uses 80 to 100 gallons of water per day.
- The South African government’s plan to avoid future water deficits. In the National Water and Sanitation Master Plan, the South African government lists strategies to avoid future water deficits, including “reducing water demand, protecting ecological infrastructure and managing effective water services.” The government is also working to pass legislation to help minimize the gap between water supply and demand. This is important because researchers predict this gap will reach 17% by 2030 if current levels of demand continue.
- The Constitution of South Africa guarantees access to water. The Constitution of South Africa states that everyone has the right to clean water and basic sanitation. Therefore, former South African President Thabo Mbeki established the Free Basic Water policy in 2000, directing city officials to provide low-income families with a sufficient amount of water at no extra cost. This policy ensures citizens living in poverty have access to clean water in South Africa.
- A call to action to avoid future droughts. Stanford University researchers conclude that “human-caused climate change” made Day Zero “five to six times more likely.” In other words, greenhouse gas emissions may impact the likelihood of water crises in years to come. For this reason, the South African government is promoting a culture of conservation to avoid future droughts and ensure citizens have continued access to clean water.
The Road Ahead
According to the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Director Audrey Azoulay, “the fate of humans and water is inextricably linked.” Our reliance on clean water for survival is coupled with the need to actively maintain water supplies for drinking and sanitation purposes. Therefore, water must be conserved and protected to ensure another Day Zero water crisis does not occur in the future.
– Chloe Young