Cape Town drought - let's be water wise

15 February 2018

This blog was published on 15 February 2018

I am fortunate enough to have recently spent time in Cape Town, South Africa.

As you will probably be aware Cape Town and the whole of the Western Cape region is currently in the midst of water crisis caused by a drought which has been ongoing since 2015.

This story has recently captured headlines around the world as there is a real possibility that this city of over 4 million people will run out of water in a matter of months. 

At present ‘Day Zero’, when the region will shut off most of the municipal water supply is scheduled for 4 June 2018.  At this point residents will have to collect an allocated 25 litres of water per day from standpoints based throughout the city.  This allocation of water will have to meet all cooking, washing and toileting needs.  

At the outset of my trip the water usage per person was limited to 75 litres per day. On 1 February this was reduced to 50 litres per day.  When you consider that an average toilet flush uses approximately 9 litres of water you can appreciate the significant adjustments that people have had to make to meet these restrictions.    

I observed lengthy daily queues at spring water points and witnessed the panic when a long awaited delivery of 5 litre water bottles arrived at a local supermarket. They were purchased in bulk within seconds by panicked residents.  Many organisations have switched off water taps in restrooms and replaced these with dry hand sanitisers to further reduce water usage.

My host in Cape Town was in the process of having a rain water harvesting tank fitted in his garden in the hope that this water could be used for toilet flushing if, or when, the taps are turned off.       

It is of note that the average water use in Cape Town, is currently just below 550 million litres per day. Two years ago, usage was at more than a billion litres per day. This suggests that the water saving measures are having a positive effect.

We have established an Environmental Group as part of our Responsible Business Committee. We recognise our responsibility to the environment and are continuously reviewing our environmental impact which includes water saving methods and using water more efficiently.  The current situation in Cape Town serves as a reminder of how water needs to be used more wisely.      

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Emily Carter is lawyer living in central London with two small children. Although she knows a thing or two about the law, she is not an expert in the science of climate change or the answers to the current crisis. She has, however, been asking herself some questions

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