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Crisis - What Crisis?

October 31, 2017

By now, we all know that the City of Cape Town - perhaps the most iconic destination on the African continent, is facing an unprecedented water shortage.  After a few years of below-par rainfall - and a rapidly increasing population, the City is unable to provide water for its citizens and visitors and predictions are that the crisis will manifest itself fully by January 2018.

 

But where does this come from?  Well, as already mentioned, there have been a few years of below-average (and even no) rainfall in the major catchment areas in the region, and dam levels have been gradually declining as demand for this lifesaving resource grew. It was business as usual in the City and surrounds, with most businesses and residents simply believing that the traditional annual rainfall periods would fix the problem.  Obviously, climate change wasn't factored into the equation and the changing rainfall patterns dumbfounded even the weather guru's in the region.

 

The growth in population into the region was another factor that no-one seemed to be paying attention to.  With the DA governing the Province and the City itself, it seemed that the growth was welcomed and as more and more people migrated to the City, the problem was simply overlooked as the provision of basic services took precedence.  And in the industrial sector, businesses simply demanded more and more without any efforts being made by the water authorities to manage consumption - save for a few half-hearted awareness campaigns that no-one took seriously anyway. 

 

And then, there was the party politik - with the National ANC 'sticking-it' to the DA-led government by not helping find the resources necessary to plan more effectively.  No money was made available to build desalination plants in the City or along the coastline - even though the signs were there, and clearly party interests trounced the needs of the community.

 

But what to do?  Well, rather belatedly and almost as a knee-jerk reaction to the problem, the hospitality sector is trying everything they can to encourage guests to save water.  Campaigns such as timers in showers; the removal of bath-plugs and even reduced laundry and cleaning operations are all being implemented, but it is a a case of too little too late.  In the past twenty years - when three environmental certification campaigns were available to the industry - and which assisted in planning and managing for just this type of emergency, only 2% of all accommodation establishments in the City and environs actually showed any interest.  The indifference by the industry has come back to haunt them, with prospects of a complete lack of water and even the tourism authorities encouraging guests and visitors to explore other parts of the Province where the drought is less significant.  Huge events and conferences continue to be held in the city in spite of none of the venues having any environmental rating, and City officials simply tut-tut as the situation worsens.  Calls to get the Israeli Government to assist in desalination planning and production are met with simple political sloganeering and campaigns - completely overlooking the fact that they lead the world in this technology and the desalination of seawater could be an answer to the short-term needs of the City.  And let's not mention the City's failure to capture the millions of litres of water that daily simply drain under the city into the bay.  

 

Is there a crisis?  Yes, there certainly is, but is enough being done about it. Sadly, no.  Had the hospitality and tourism sectors listened to the voices of the informed a long-time ago, they would be better prepared and less vulnerable to this crisis. Had they paid more than just lip-service to sustainability and actually done something positive instead of going through the motions, we would have a very different situation today.

 

Maybe what Cape Town needs is a harsh reality check and a reminder that even though they are the most desired destination on the continent, arrogance and indifference come at a price. 

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