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If we run out of water – Owei Lakemfa

CAPE  TOWN, South Africa, one of the  preferred  destinations of the tourist with a population of 3.7 million people, is running out of water. Nestled in the bosom of the mighty  Atlantic Ocean and its great sister, the  Indian Ocean, it is ironic that such a city would be engaged in a life or  death battle over  drinkable water.

Glass of water

Before it entered its January 18, 2018  water emergency mode, the city had been on a strict diet on water consumption. In October, 2017 it had imposed a maximum 87-litre per person daily water ration and this included the usage at home, school, work or the gym. Now, with effect from February 1, that water ration will be reduced to 50 litres  daily per person.

That comes with strict rules including no showering for more than one minute, no storing of excessive  municipal water,  no water available for swimming pools. Also, it may not be wise to just pour away dirty water; some re-use or recycling where possible, might be better.  With the new rules, if  the Capetonian  home has more than four persons and needs more water allocation for the household,  it has to apply for increased quota. During strict rationing, the water user is allowed to keep 5-10 litres of drinking water. Businesses and organisations are required to reduce water usage by 45 percent.

There are sanctions for violations. For instance, if water usage is above the levels allocated, water outage will be used  and it will only be restored if the usage returns to permissible levels. In other words, services will be restored only when demand decreases within limitation levels. Also, fines are to be imposed on households found to have used too much water.

All these Kafkaesque rules will be nothing compared to an envisaged Zero Water Level which might come by April 21. On this Day Zero,  each resident would be entitled to 25 litres per day while authorities have designated 200 points in the city where residents can collect water in accordance with their daily ration.

Mayor Patricia de Lille said: “We have reached a point of no return…We can no longer ask people to stop wasting water. We must force them”.

Councillor Xanthea Limberg,  almost at the point of exasperation, lamented: “We did the public naming and shaming, where we identified the top 20,000 users, and we released the names of the top 100 users. Moving forward, we will continue with our enforcement activities by issuing fines and notices to appear in court, to sustain our water supply going forward”.?  Cape Town is taking these desperate measures as its dam levels are at  38.5 percent with 28.5 percent of it being useable water.

The danger of humanity running out of water is real. Some may argue that our world is made up of 70 percent water, so how can we run out of water? All they need realise is that despite the abundance of water, fresh water makes up only 3 percent, even at that, only 1 percent is available. We are like a man adrift in the ocean; despite the  abundance of water around him and as far as the eyes can see, he has no water to drink because he is in saline waters whereas  what he needs is fresh water.

There are two primary causes of water shortage in Cape Town. One is  climate change which has caused drought and may see one quarter of the  Earth’s surface  becoming drier. This of course has implications not just for water but also food and  energy production. The other cause is high  population increase. In 1970, the city’s population was 1,114,000, in 1975, 1,339,000 and last year, 3.7 million. But the problem is not really of Cape Town or even the whole of South Africa, the high population challenge is global.

For example, here in Nigeria, we were 123 million in 2000, 182 million fifteen years later and by 2030, our population is expected to push up to 263 million. The population of the United States was 5.3 million in 1880, 106 million in 1920 and 307 million in 2010. The Indian sub- continent  (India, Pakistan and Bangladesh) was 389 million in 1941, today, it is 1.63 billion. China was 580 million in 1953, now, despite years of strict population rules,  it is 1.3 billion.

All these have affected the resources including water available to  humanity. Apart from  these, and the non-economic use of water worldwide, is the waste of available fresh water. For instance, there is the unregulated and reckless drilling of boreholes. In Abuja for example, almost every household in a three thousand square metre plot (in areas like the highbrow Maitama) has at least one  borehole.

Humanity has to declare an emergency like Cape Town has done because the possibility of us running out of fresh water is very high and people in future might die of thirst. Of course the process of desalination; removing the dissolved salt from seawater is a reality, but the technology to make it cheap, affordable and available to the mass of humanity may be light years away.

To add to our water problem is the culture of bottled water. In kindergarten school, I was  taught  the qualities of good water; it must be clean and free of impurities, colourless and odourless. Later other minute details were added; that the qualities include  coolness, lightness, sweetness and softness. Public water supply guarantees these basic qualities. But the private sector began a false campaign about safer drinking water and made a market for bottled water.

Today, billions believe that bottled water is safer and if one can afford it, he should stop drinking water from public taps. One of the unforeseen   consequences  of this change in the culture of drinking water, is the proliferation of plastic bottles which is now choking the water ways and taking over the seas and oceans.

Prince Charles of Britain  claims that 8 million tonnes of plastic are dumped annually into the sea. It is envisaged that by 2050, the oceans will contain more plastics than fish. There is also the danger of water creatures ingesting plastics.  That is not the only problem, plastic bottles   can take hundreds of years to biodegrade, if it does so at all.

So we do not only face the danger of running out of fresh water, but  by our actions and new culture, we endanger all the waters of Mother Earth. To sustain life, we must take care of nature and promote a sustainable   culture of living.


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