A human disaster that most people would think impossible is about to hit the South African city of Cape Town.
The city’s 4 million inhabitants are counting down to day zero – on April 12 – when the water supply will be switched off and taps will run dry.
To put the importance of Cape Town in context, the city is the second most populous in South Africa, the seat of government and a leading global tourist destination.
Cape Town is also the continent’s oldest city, which would become the world’s largest built-up area to run dry.
The city is suffering from a drought that has seen water supplies in reservoirs gradually shrink despite local authorities imposing strict rationing.
Each person is limited to 50 litres of fresh water a day for drinking, washing and sanitation.
But the authorities complain no one is sticking to the rules and usable water is draining away even faster.
The reservoirs are just over 17% full. When the levels hit 13.5%, the system is too dry to run and will be switched off.
Then, daily rations will be cut to 25 litres a person and families will have to queue at water collection points supervised by the army and police at 200 sites around the city.
Day Zero countdown
“We have reached a point of no return,” she said. “Despite our urging for months, 60% of people are callously using more than 87 litres per day.
“It is quite unbelievable that most people do not seem to care and are sending all of us headlong towards Day Zero.”
Trial collection points are already open, while hotels are demanding guests shower in less than two minutes. The dirty water is collected to clean dishes, run laundries and water gardens.
The city council says a typical shower uses 15 litres of clean water a minute and a standard toilet flush uses the same amount of water.
Reportedly, entrepreneurs with plastic bottles are collecting free water from streams around the city and selling it on to others in the city.