Cape Town, or the Mother City as South Africans call it, is a very popular tourist city with international tourists from outside Africa and its visitor numbers grew last year. People come to see its beautiful beaches, Table Mountain and to get on a ferry to Robben Island. Many also attend business conferences.

Hamstrung response

The city’s response to the crisis has been hamstrung by its own five-year plan. Building infrastructure like desalination plants for the surrounding water or collections systems for the run-off water have to be carefully considered as part of a long-term investment.

And besides, the city’s most impoverished residents barely have flushing toilets or piped water, so building a state-of-the art desalination system (which would cost 8 billion rand or $632 million for 55 billion liters a year) would seem “unconscionable,” as one academic put it.

Cape Town has about 100 days of water left due to drought, despite water restrictions
The Theewaterskloof dam, the largest dam supplying water to Cape Town.
Image: EPA/Nic Bothma

The other option is to recycle by “tapping into wastewater as a valuable resource,” the city said in a statement on World Water Day on March 22. While 6% of wastewater is currently being recycled for uses other than human consumption, a more sustainable recycling project has yet to get past the first phase of the pilot stage, the statement said.

Cape Town’s usually wet, miserable winter may be a boon this year around, but the weather service fears the June/July rainfall may be too little too late. Until then, the city can only hope that citizens will use water responsibly, even after the rains eventually return.

📬 Sign up for the Daily Brief

Our free, fast, and fun briefing on the global economy, delivered every weekday morning.