Cape Town, with its famed winer­ies and agri-tourism, con­tem­plates life be­yond Day Zero, when wa­ter is per­ma­nently scarce.

The Peak (Hong Kong) - - Letter From Cape Town The Brief - MIRIAM MANNAK Miriam Mannak is a jour­nal­ist based in Cape Town, South Africa, spe­cial­is­ing in Africa’s green econ­omy.

The day that Cape Town’s taps are ex­pected to run dry has been moved from late April to the first week of July, but its wa­ter woes are far from over – even if Day Zero doesn’t even hap­pen this year. Ex­perts think Day Zero is in­evitable. In truth, South Africa’s key tourist cap­i­tal and other parts of the West­ern Cape prov­ince will stay wa­ter-scarce for the fore­see­able fu­ture. Cli­mate change is a key cul­prit, which means that per­ma­nent, struc­tural changes are go­ing to be nec­es­sary for long-term de­vel­op­ment, in­clud­ing for the al­limpor­tant wine and tourism in­dus­try.

The lo­cal and provin­cial au­thor­i­ties are there­fore try­ing to make the re­gion more drought re­sis­tant. De­creas­ing Cape Town’s near-to­tal de­pen­dency on the rain is key. “A few years ago, 100 per cent of our wa­ter came from rain. By the end of this year, we want 12 per cent of our drink­ing wa­ter to come from al­ter­na­tive sources,” says Tim Har­ris, CEO of the West­ern Cape’s trade and in­vest­ment pro­mo­tion agency Wes­gro. “This in­cludes build­ing de­sali­na­tion plants, which can give us with 16 mil­lion litres of wa­ter per day, and ex­tract­ing ground­wa­ter from aquifers. This could re­sult in an­other 120 mil­lion litres daily.”

How­ever, tap­ping into Cape Town’s aquifers is a short-term so­lu­tion. “Aquifers need to be recharged when the rain comes,” Har­ris says. The city is now do­ing an ac­count­ing of its wa­ter like never be­fore. An ad­di­tional 10 mil­lion litres per day can come from wa­ter re­cy­cling, and Har­ris es­ti­mates that spring wa­ters from Ta­ble Moun­tain, the iconic peak over­look­ing the city, can add an­other four mil­lion litres per day.

In the mean­time, the mu­nic­i­pal­ity says it has in­ten­si­fied the fight against wa­ter leaks, a chronic prob­lem in South Africa due to age­ing in­fra­struc­ture. Cape Town has 11,000 kilo­me­tres of wa­ter pipes, with 16 per cent of its wa­ter lost due to leaks, com­pared to 34 per cent losses na­tion­ally. In 2015, Cape Town even won an award for wa­ter con­ser­va­tion from Michael Bloomberg’s C40 Cities or­gan­i­sa­tion.

The threat of Day Zero has prompted a rig­or­ous wa­ter-sav­ing drive amongst lo­cals, which, ac­cord­ing to Mayor Pa­tri­cia de Lille, has helped con­sid­er­ably. “Cape Town’s wa­ter us­age has dropped from 900 mil­lion litres per day a year ago to 500 mil­lion litres per day in March 2018,” she said in a state­ment, adding that the city’s per day us­age should be around 450 mil­lion litres per day to pre­vent Day Zero. How­ever, even that may not be enough.

In­creas­ing the price of wa­ter among heavy users whilst de­creas­ing over­all wa­ter pres­sure have been two other tac­tics. “The city has in­stalled a quar­ter of a mil­lion wa­ter man­age­ment de­vices,” Har­ris says. “If your

house­hold is us­ing over 10,500 litres per month, th­ese de­vices re­strict you to a more rea­son­able amount.”

Peo­ple are ac­knowl­edg­ing the need for a new nor­mal in wa­ter. Philip Kira­cofe, co-founder and CEO of tech in­cu­ba­tor Star­tup­boot­camp Cape Town, warns about the sys­temic dan­gers be­yond Day Zero. “The re­al­ity is that we can’t take our foot off the pedal – ever,” he says. He points to rapid pop­u­la­tion growth and in­tense ur­ban­i­sa­tion lead­ing to wa­ter short­ages across Africa, and not just in Cape Town. Wa­ter sav­ing won’t be enough to deal with this fu­ture – tech­nol­ogy so­lu­tions in wa­ter and agri­cul­ture are ur­gently needed.

Alan Winde, the West­ern Cape provin­cial min­is­ter of eco­nomic op­por­tu­ni­ties whose re­mit com­bines agri­cul­ture and tourism, has said that agri­cul­ture needs to get “smarter”. Agri­cul­tural pro­duc­tion has de­clined by 20 per cent thanks to the drought, with job losses as a re­sult – an es­ti­mated 22 per cent of ru­ral jobs are sup­ported by agri­cul­ture. “A whole new wa­ter econ­omy will come out of this,” Winde said dur­ing a me­dia brief­ing in March. He added that it will take a lot of in­no­va­tion to keep South African agri­cul­ture in busi­ness.

There have been also con­cerns re­gard­ing the tourism sec­tor, which con­trib­utes about 7.5 per cent of Cape Town’s GDP. Re­cent fig­ures by Cape Town Tourism have re­vealed that The Mother City re­ceived one mil­lion for­eign trav­ellers be­tween July 2016 and July 2017, a 25 per cent year on year in­crease, along with four mil­lion do­mes­tic tourists. Keep­ing tourists com­ing has be­come a crit­i­cal PR job.

“Yes, we are open to tourism. How­ever, if you do come, please be mind­ful of our sit­u­a­tion,” says Har­ris.

Mean­while, Kira­cofe is con­fi­dent about the prom­ise of new, home-grown tech­no­log­i­cal so­lu­tions to deal with a per­ma­nent drought con­di­tions. He says that wa­ter con­sump­tion in Cape Town is al­ready down to 50 litres per per­son per day (Hong Kong uses over 200 liters per day per per­son). “All key in­no­va­tions that will help us solve our wa­ter cri­sis will come from here. If, and when, we come up with th­ese so­lu­tions, we will ex­port those so­lu­tions to other places in the world that will fol­low with their wa­ter crises.”

At the mo­ment, Cape Town’s drought is the news, but other cities are in dan­ger, in­clud­ing Sao Paolo, a city of 20 mil­lion in Brazil, which was down to 20 days’ wa­ter sup­ply in 2015. Mex­ico City and Jakarta are also at risk. Cape Town’s re­sponse to its drought af­ter Day Zero could be a har­bin­ger for other cities in fu­ture.

“A WHOLE NEW WA­TER ECON­OMY WILL COME OUT OF THIS.” – Alan Winde, Min­istry of Agri­cul­ture, Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment and Tourism

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