Author: Leonie Joubert

Citizens unite in Cape Town’s water crisis

With Cape Town’s water crisis so bad that its taps may soon run dry, Capetonians are working together to avert a shared disaster.

CAPE TOWN, 15 March, 2018 – The people of this city are preparing for Day Zero – a water shortage expected four months from now as Cape Town’s water crisis intensifies, likely to be so severe that the reservoirs will be virtually empty.

It sounds like a grim prospect. If it happens, it probably will be. But the good news is that across the city, regardless of differences of wealth and class, South Africans are working together to try to ensure that Day Zero never dawns.

São Paulo, Melbourne and Cape Town are three cities with one thing in common: they’ve all recently faced critical water shortages. Swelling populations, water infrastructure upgrades that aren’t keeping pace, and severe drought are on a collision course to become an urban manager’s worst nightmare, with fresh water and sanitation systems threatening to run dry – literally.

As climate change continues to ratchet up around the world, making rain patterns less predictable, and heatwaves and droughts harsher and stronger, many more cities will face similar intersecting challenges in future.

Surprising co-operation

But a study of water use behaviour amongst Cape Town residents over the past three years shows surprising levels of co-operation around efforts to conserve the city’s “common pool resource”, its municipal water reserves. And the story is one which belies the media reports that people are selfishly panic-hoarding ahead of the prospect of the water being turned off to most of the city.

This February, Cape Town announced the possible arrival of Day Zero, an emergency response measure that the city says it will put in place, should the dams run down to their last remaining 13.5% of available water.

To conserve the dams’ final dregs, the city says it will shut off water to homes and businesses, and trickle-feed the remaining reserves through to critical services like hospitals. Residents will have to queue at communal water distribution points around the city to get a daily ration of 25 litres of water.

Media reports immediately said residents of the city appeared to be panic-buying bottled water and installing bulk water storage tanks.

Pulling together

The concern was that those who had the means to install these tanks would fill them from the municipal water system, to stock up ahead of Day Zero. This would mean vastly exceeding their current daily ration of 50 litres of water per person per day, and would result in a hefty fine or higher water bills.

But a recent analysis by a behavioural economist at the University of Cape Town (UCT) shows that Capetonians’ behaviour has actually been the opposite: that they have been pulling together in the past few years, in response to various measures by the city to get people to reduce their water use.

Martine Visser, from UCT’s Environmental Policy Research Unit, has been tracking water use behaviour amongst Cape Town’s residents, to see how effective various measures by the city have been in getting people to change their behaviour: media education campaigns, dramatic tariff increases, daily limit restrictions and fines for those who break the restrictions – and a few more.

Looking at 400,000 homes across the city, Visser and her colleagues saw an overall decrease in household water use of nearly 50% in just three years, dropping from 540 litres per household per day in January 2015 to 280 litres in January 2018.

“The worst possible outcome right now would be if people lost faith in each other’s ability to safeguard the remaining water”

It took drought-crippled Melbourne a decade to reduce residential water use by 40% from 2000 to 2010 during Australia’s “millennium drought”. In California similar water behaviour measures resulted in a per person reduction of 63% – from 1995 to 2016.

Most interesting in the analysis, says Visser, is the fact that wealthier Capetonians are doing their bit. Since the height of summer 2015 the richest households have cut their water use to that of the lowest income households, who have much less scope to reduce their water consumption further.

This dramatic drop is partly explained by the fact that wealthier families can in fact afford to invest in drilling boreholes or wells and installing bulk water storage tanks, which have helped reduce demand on the municipal supply. But it is also a consequence of sharp water reduction efforts by individuals.

Together, this has helped push back the arrival of Day Zero until early July. Hopefully, by then, the winter rains will have returned and begun recharging dams and groundwater.

More committed

So behavioural economics suggests that if people believe they are rallying around a common good, like saving water, they become more committed to doing it. But there’s a warning too, says Professor Visser: if people lose faith in each other they will turn to selfish, hoarding behaviour. There is evidence to suggest this twin pattern may apply not only with water-saving but in the case of other shared resources as well.

“The blame game that has dominated media forums is largely inaccurate and counter-productive, and it perpetuates free-riding and selfish behaviour which threatens this common resource pool”, warned Visser recently in the local press.

“The worst possible outcome right now would be if people lost faith in each other’s ability to safeguard the remaining water as part of a common pool resource, and instead rather started withdrawing water from the municipal supply for their own bulk storage.”

The message for drought-stressed cities in future, in terms of encouraging residents to willingly adopt more sustainable behaviour, is to rally them around a common cause, and build mutual trust by showing that people are cooperating towards everyone’s shared wellbeing. – Climate News Network

 

Leonie Joubert is a freelance science writer and author, whose books include Scorched: South Africa’s changing climate, and Boiling Point: people in a changing climate.

With Cape Town’s water crisis so bad that its taps may soon run dry, Capetonians are working together to avert a shared disaster.

CAPE TOWN, 15 March, 2018 – The people of this city are preparing for Day Zero – a water shortage expected four months from now as Cape Town’s water crisis intensifies, likely to be so severe that the reservoirs will be virtually empty.

It sounds like a grim prospect. If it happens, it probably will be. But the good news is that across the city, regardless of differences of wealth and class, South Africans are working together to try to ensure that Day Zero never dawns.

São Paulo, Melbourne and Cape Town are three cities with one thing in common: they’ve all recently faced critical water shortages. Swelling populations, water infrastructure upgrades that aren’t keeping pace, and severe drought are on a collision course to become an urban manager’s worst nightmare, with fresh water and sanitation systems threatening to run dry – literally.

As climate change continues to ratchet up around the world, making rain patterns less predictable, and heatwaves and droughts harsher and stronger, many more cities will face similar intersecting challenges in future.

Surprising co-operation

But a study of water use behaviour amongst Cape Town residents over the past three years shows surprising levels of co-operation around efforts to conserve the city’s “common pool resource”, its municipal water reserves. And the story is one which belies the media reports that people are selfishly panic-hoarding ahead of the prospect of the water being turned off to most of the city.

This February, Cape Town announced the possible arrival of Day Zero, an emergency response measure that the city says it will put in place, should the dams run down to their last remaining 13.5% of available water.

To conserve the dams’ final dregs, the city says it will shut off water to homes and businesses, and trickle-feed the remaining reserves through to critical services like hospitals. Residents will have to queue at communal water distribution points around the city to get a daily ration of 25 litres of water.

Media reports immediately said residents of the city appeared to be panic-buying bottled water and installing bulk water storage tanks.

Pulling together

The concern was that those who had the means to install these tanks would fill them from the municipal water system, to stock up ahead of Day Zero. This would mean vastly exceeding their current daily ration of 50 litres of water per person per day, and would result in a hefty fine or higher water bills.

But a recent analysis by a behavioural economist at the University of Cape Town (UCT) shows that Capetonians’ behaviour has actually been the opposite: that they have been pulling together in the past few years, in response to various measures by the city to get people to reduce their water use.

Martine Visser, from UCT’s Environmental Policy Research Unit, has been tracking water use behaviour amongst Cape Town’s residents, to see how effective various measures by the city have been in getting people to change their behaviour: media education campaigns, dramatic tariff increases, daily limit restrictions and fines for those who break the restrictions – and a few more.

Looking at 400,000 homes across the city, Visser and her colleagues saw an overall decrease in household water use of nearly 50% in just three years, dropping from 540 litres per household per day in January 2015 to 280 litres in January 2018.

“The worst possible outcome right now would be if people lost faith in each other’s ability to safeguard the remaining water”

It took drought-crippled Melbourne a decade to reduce residential water use by 40% from 2000 to 2010 during Australia’s “millennium drought”. In California similar water behaviour measures resulted in a per person reduction of 63% – from 1995 to 2016.

Most interesting in the analysis, says Visser, is the fact that wealthier Capetonians are doing their bit. Since the height of summer 2015 the richest households have cut their water use to that of the lowest income households, who have much less scope to reduce their water consumption further.

This dramatic drop is partly explained by the fact that wealthier families can in fact afford to invest in drilling boreholes or wells and installing bulk water storage tanks, which have helped reduce demand on the municipal supply. But it is also a consequence of sharp water reduction efforts by individuals.

Together, this has helped push back the arrival of Day Zero until early July. Hopefully, by then, the winter rains will have returned and begun recharging dams and groundwater.

More committed

So behavioural economics suggests that if people believe they are rallying around a common good, like saving water, they become more committed to doing it. But there’s a warning too, says Professor Visser: if people lose faith in each other they will turn to selfish, hoarding behaviour. There is evidence to suggest this twin pattern may apply not only with water-saving but in the case of other shared resources as well.

“The blame game that has dominated media forums is largely inaccurate and counter-productive, and it perpetuates free-riding and selfish behaviour which threatens this common resource pool”, warned Visser recently in the local press.

“The worst possible outcome right now would be if people lost faith in each other’s ability to safeguard the remaining water as part of a common pool resource, and instead rather started withdrawing water from the municipal supply for their own bulk storage.”

The message for drought-stressed cities in future, in terms of encouraging residents to willingly adopt more sustainable behaviour, is to rally them around a common cause, and build mutual trust by showing that people are cooperating towards everyone’s shared wellbeing. – Climate News Network

 

Leonie Joubert is a freelance science writer and author, whose books include Scorched: South Africa’s changing climate, and Boiling Point: people in a changing climate.

Will Cape Town’s Day Zero arrive?

On 23 January we reported on the water crisis facing the South African city of Cape Town, expected on 11 May to reach Day Zero, when water to homes and businesses will be cut off. A long-time resident reports.

CAPE TOWN, 7 February, 2018 – Day Zero is real. The Day Zero concept means that Cape Town’s utility managers will switch off water to residential buildings and businesses, and continue to supply only critical services such as hospitals, and also the communal taps in slum neighbourhoods where people already collect their water in buckets every day.

This means most people in the suburbs will have to collect their daily 25l (0.88 cubic feet) water ration from 200 new distribution points. People have been warned that the military and police are on standby to manage any civil unrest.

The fear is that the entire economy will grind to a halt, as businesses and schools shut down, lacking water to drink or to flush toilets.

Households are currently asked to stick to a daily limit of 50l, but enforcement is difficult. The city says significant numbers of households, mostly wealthier ones, still massively exceed this figure.

Will Day Zero happen?

If Day Zero does dawn, the taps will be “turned off” for about three months. The Western Cape province, in which Cape Town lies, will head into its annual rainy season in late May (our Mediterranean climate brings rainfall in winter).

An academic close to a local university’s climate modelling team, and also privy to the city’s emergency water task team, says the concern isn’t whether or not Day Zero actually arrives (some well-informed pundits say it won’t).

The issue is what happens next summer: no matter how much rain we get this winter, it won’t be enough to recharge the province’s dams to meet 2019’s needs.

Communications hype?

The claim that this is the “worst crisis to face a city since World War II”, made by the provincial leader of the Democratic Alliance, Helen Zille, is criticised as hyperbole.

A local newspaper columnist, Tom Eaton, wrote recently that Zille appears to momentarily have forgotten about “major cities called Sarajevo, New Orleans and Aleppo, each of which has faced ‘challenges’ in the last 30 years that, one might argue, rival that faced by Cape Town.”

My source who says the day may not arrive reckons the Day Zero idea is more of an emergency messaging concept to urge behaviour change, than an actual event likely to occur.

True or not, the bottom line is that Cape Town (a city that’s run by the chief opposition party, the Democratic Alliance/DA) is being heavily criticised for mismanaging the crisis, for several reasons.

Political rivalries

The national government (run by the African National Congress) is responsible for bulk water infrastructure, and appears to have been stalling on water delivery in the Western Cape province for the past decade.

The province is run by the ANC’s chief opposition, the DA. But critics say the DA could nevertheless have implemented much tighter water restrictions, sooner, in what now turns out to be a severe three-year drought.

They say the city should also have been exploring underground aquifers and desalination options much earlier, to get the laborious and bureaucratic tender processes passed and the infrastructure in place well before now. The city is also being accused of ignoring projections on population growth

The DA is charged too with blaming the unpredictability of the climate for their failure to plan: climate modellers have long been projecting a hotter, drier climate for the Cape, with longer droughts and more variable rainfall.

The city is selling this three-year drought as “unprecedented”, while some critics are calling it “the new normal”. Either way, the DA regularly points out that the climate models gave no warning of a drought this severe.

The issue is what happens next summer: no matter how much rain we get this winter, it won’t be enough to recharge the province’s dams

The city regularly says it will crack down on its top 100 most wasteful water users, through fines, temporary water cut-offs, or by installing devices letting it throttle back on household supplies to high users. Unfortunately it lacks the resources to install the devices fast enough.

Behavioural economists at the University of Cape Town (UCT) have done some preliminary research with city utility managers to see how short carefully crafted messages in people’s monthly utility bills can bring about voluntary adoption of water-wise behaviour.

Professor Martine Visser from the Environmental Policy Research Unit at UCT found that wealthy water consumers are more likely to cut their use if they know they will be praised publicly (for instance, on the city’s website) as “water wise”.

But they’re less likely to respond to threats of increased tariffs or fines for high usage, because their water bills constitute such a small part of their overall budget.

My water rationing

I have been surviving on about 40l of water a week for the past five months. I switched off my hot water cylinder in September because I found that even if I collected all the cold water that ran through the shower in a bucket, before hot water came through, it still collected twice as much water as I’d use to shower, once the hot was running. It is much more efficient to simply boil a kettle and then bucket-bath in about 3l of water.

From this month I’m now down to a daily water ration of about 26l:

Bucket bath: 3l (goes to first load of laundry, which then goes to flushing)
Dishes: 2l
Flushing: 20l (x 2 daily, about 12.8 l of which is grey water)
Cooking: 1l
Brushing teeth/washing hands: 1l
Drinking (water, tea etc): 2l
Laundry: 12.8l (2 x loads per week = 90l divided by 7 days = 12.8l, which goes to flushing)
TOTAL: ±26l dailyClimate News Network

Leonie Joubert is a freelance science writer and author, whose books include Scorched: South Africa’s changing climate, and Boiling Point: people in a changing climate.

On 23 January we reported on the water crisis facing the South African city of Cape Town, expected on 11 May to reach Day Zero, when water to homes and businesses will be cut off. A long-time resident reports.

CAPE TOWN, 7 February, 2018 – Day Zero is real. The Day Zero concept means that Cape Town’s utility managers will switch off water to residential buildings and businesses, and continue to supply only critical services such as hospitals, and also the communal taps in slum neighbourhoods where people already collect their water in buckets every day.

This means most people in the suburbs will have to collect their daily 25l (0.88 cubic feet) water ration from 200 new distribution points. People have been warned that the military and police are on standby to manage any civil unrest.

The fear is that the entire economy will grind to a halt, as businesses and schools shut down, lacking water to drink or to flush toilets.

Households are currently asked to stick to a daily limit of 50l, but enforcement is difficult. The city says significant numbers of households, mostly wealthier ones, still massively exceed this figure.

Will Day Zero happen?

If Day Zero does dawn, the taps will be “turned off” for about three months. The Western Cape province, in which Cape Town lies, will head into its annual rainy season in late May (our Mediterranean climate brings rainfall in winter).

An academic close to a local university’s climate modelling team, and also privy to the city’s emergency water task team, says the concern isn’t whether or not Day Zero actually arrives (some well-informed pundits say it won’t).

The issue is what happens next summer: no matter how much rain we get this winter, it won’t be enough to recharge the province’s dams to meet 2019’s needs.

Communications hype?

The claim that this is the “worst crisis to face a city since World War II”, made by the provincial leader of the Democratic Alliance, Helen Zille, is criticised as hyperbole.

A local newspaper columnist, Tom Eaton, wrote recently that Zille appears to momentarily have forgotten about “major cities called Sarajevo, New Orleans and Aleppo, each of which has faced ‘challenges’ in the last 30 years that, one might argue, rival that faced by Cape Town.”

My source who says the day may not arrive reckons the Day Zero idea is more of an emergency messaging concept to urge behaviour change, than an actual event likely to occur.

True or not, the bottom line is that Cape Town (a city that’s run by the chief opposition party, the Democratic Alliance/DA) is being heavily criticised for mismanaging the crisis, for several reasons.

Political rivalries

The national government (run by the African National Congress) is responsible for bulk water infrastructure, and appears to have been stalling on water delivery in the Western Cape province for the past decade.

The province is run by the ANC’s chief opposition, the DA. But critics say the DA could nevertheless have implemented much tighter water restrictions, sooner, in what now turns out to be a severe three-year drought.

They say the city should also have been exploring underground aquifers and desalination options much earlier, to get the laborious and bureaucratic tender processes passed and the infrastructure in place well before now. The city is also being accused of ignoring projections on population growth

The DA is charged too with blaming the unpredictability of the climate for their failure to plan: climate modellers have long been projecting a hotter, drier climate for the Cape, with longer droughts and more variable rainfall.

The city is selling this three-year drought as “unprecedented”, while some critics are calling it “the new normal”. Either way, the DA regularly points out that the climate models gave no warning of a drought this severe.

The issue is what happens next summer: no matter how much rain we get this winter, it won’t be enough to recharge the province’s dams

The city regularly says it will crack down on its top 100 most wasteful water users, through fines, temporary water cut-offs, or by installing devices letting it throttle back on household supplies to high users. Unfortunately it lacks the resources to install the devices fast enough.

Behavioural economists at the University of Cape Town (UCT) have done some preliminary research with city utility managers to see how short carefully crafted messages in people’s monthly utility bills can bring about voluntary adoption of water-wise behaviour.

Professor Martine Visser from the Environmental Policy Research Unit at UCT found that wealthy water consumers are more likely to cut their use if they know they will be praised publicly (for instance, on the city’s website) as “water wise”.

But they’re less likely to respond to threats of increased tariffs or fines for high usage, because their water bills constitute such a small part of their overall budget.

My water rationing

I have been surviving on about 40l of water a week for the past five months. I switched off my hot water cylinder in September because I found that even if I collected all the cold water that ran through the shower in a bucket, before hot water came through, it still collected twice as much water as I’d use to shower, once the hot was running. It is much more efficient to simply boil a kettle and then bucket-bath in about 3l of water.

From this month I’m now down to a daily water ration of about 26l:

Bucket bath: 3l (goes to first load of laundry, which then goes to flushing)
Dishes: 2l
Flushing: 20l (x 2 daily, about 12.8 l of which is grey water)
Cooking: 1l
Brushing teeth/washing hands: 1l
Drinking (water, tea etc): 2l
Laundry: 12.8l (2 x loads per week = 90l divided by 7 days = 12.8l, which goes to flushing)
TOTAL: ±26l dailyClimate News Network

Leonie Joubert is a freelance science writer and author, whose books include Scorched: South Africa’s changing climate, and Boiling Point: people in a changing climate.