By Prachi Nautiyal
Sitting in our cosy beds and comfy chairs, have we ever wondered that somewhere in this world, a warm Mediterranean country lives in constant fear of losing its water supply any minute. It has been forever since the Threewaterskloof Dam has provided water to the four million residents of Cape Town, South Africa. But for the last three years Cape Town was in the middle of an unparalleled drought. A constant decline in the level of water in the dams since 2015 was recorded, but this once-in-a-millennium dry spell was said to reach its pinnacle in the middle of 2017 when the water level in the dams did not ascend 30%. The term ‘Day Zero’ was introduced towards the end of 2017. A doomsday for Cape Town, Day Zero, when it arrives, would mark the fall of water levels in the dams below 13.7% thus signifying the beginning of level 7 water restrictions. The day when Cape Town residents would have to travel to 200 collection sites and wait in long lines to fetch water.
In January 2018, a 90 day countdown to day zero began for the people of Cape Town. Theycould no longer be asked to stop wasting water rather they now had to be forced to narrow down their usage of water. Cape Town adopted a comparatively simple model to manage water. The Capetonians constricted their water consumption to 87 litres per day. This meant that they had access to only 2 minute long showers and 2 toilet flushes per person per day. Residents were also fined if found filling pools, washing cars and even watering their gardens. With their efforts today, Cape Town has dodged a bullet and has apparently made it through. But just because the problem has been put off for the time being does not mean that it has been resolved.
Though conservation of water saved Cape Town from their fate, the term ‘Day Zero’ still seems to stick around. In the near future, cities from all over the world might face a zero water day and may even become uninhabitable. Sao Paulo, Beijing, Cairo, Jakarta, Moscow, Istanbul, Mexico, London, Tokyo, Miami and hundreds of other cities stand in constant fear of no longer having water in their taps. Two major Indian cities- Bangalore and Chennai also grapple with the worst water crisis in years. Chennai is reporting 40% cut in piped water supplies. Out of the 1 billion people lodging in India, approximately 600 million reside in areas that face high to extreme water stress. Globally, nearly four billion people live in areas which face a scarcity of water. India is also one of the 33 countries that, in the near future, are likely to face extreme water stress.
Considering the scenario today, it is evident that as citizens there is one reality that we have constantly brushed aside. The possibility that all major cities, both in India and abroad, will run out of water shortly. This is a catastrophic situation and sadly it is no fiction. It is a reality that is headed our way with lightning fast speed. With a continuous rise in population and constant growth in economy the demand of water, which is the basic necessity of life, also hikes. And we can utilize water only if we possess it. But whenever a suggestion is made to safeguard water and make certain changes in our lifestyles, questions like “how are the people going manage if there is a water cut. How are they going to survive?” arise. We need to understand that conservation does not mean that we stop using water completely. But it does mean that that we avoid the 10 minute long showers, or the sleepy brushing sessions, or playing Holi Bollywood style with people being tossed into massive pools of water. We do not have to stop using water, we have to stop wasting it.
Although Cape Town’s concept of Day Zero brings about panic and confusion, it also brings with it, a message of hope. Hope that even if the situation gets dreadful, we can still work our way out. That the power of determination can vanquish the approach of a disaster. That together, we can protect ourselves, others and planet Earth.