Many of you have heard about the water crisis in Cape Town. Let me tell you…it’s real. Cape Town is experiencing one of its worst droughts in the past 100 years. The water is running out and “Day Zero” seems all but inevitable. Nancy and I wanted to quickly pass along some details to keep you informed and to also ask you to pray for the people of Cape Town.
Being a semi-arid climate (known as the 30th driest in the world), South Africa relies on the winter rainfall season to supply water to over four million people every day. Our water is supplied largely from the six major dams located in the Western Cape’s mountainous areas close to the city. The dams are normally refilled by rain falling, which happens during the cooler winter months of May to August. After the winter season we don’t get much rain and the dam levels decline during the warm, dry summer months of November to March, during which urban and agricultural water use increases.
How Can a City Run Out of Water?
At present, the dams are extremely low (about 25% full) from a drought that began in 2015. Even with all the water-saving measures enforced, dam levels are predicted to decline to critically low levels and the city has made plans for “Day Zero” to happen in May. Day Zero is the anticipated day that almost all of the taps in the city will be turned off. Public water will only be made available at approximately 200 sites scattered across the peninsula to those who stand in line for it.
As you can imagine the finger pointing and political pondering is all around us. Not wanting to enter that debate, the facts speak for themselves and it’s actually pretty simple. Since 1995, Cape Town’s population has grown from 2.4 million residents to an estimated 4.3 million in 2018. That represents nearly an 80 percent population increase in 23 years. During which time the dam water storage only increased by 15 percent. Couple rapid population growth with very little rainfall and you can see why folks are saying Day Zero is fast approaching. What about Cape Town’s government and planning interventions? Many here would pass along this simple but profound Chinese proverb, “The best time to plant an oak tree was twenty years ago. The second-best time is today.”
How Do We Live With Less Water?
Here are just a few of the ways an average Capetonian conserves, uses, and even re-uses their allotment of 50 liters per person (13 gallons) of water a day.
- Only flush the toilet when necessary. “If it’s yellow, let it mellow. If it’s brown, flush it down.” That’s the mantra at home, work, school, etc.
- Take infrequent and very short stop-start showers, i.e., quickly wet your body, turn off the tap, soap, then rinse quickly.
- Collect your excess shower, bath and basin water and re-use it to flush your toilet or water plants.
- Wait for a full load before running washing machines and dishwashers. Then, collect the rinse water for use in the garden or re-use it for the next wash cycle.
- Use a cup instead of running water in the bathroom or kitchen when brushing teeth, shaving, drinking, etc.
Water vs. Electricity
You might recall that not too long ago we experienced an electricity crisis in Cape Town. But we are now finding out, that as horrible as it was when we experienced “load shedding” and our electricity was cut off for hours at a time, it’s not nearly as intense as this water crisis. Not having electric is inconvenient, however, running out of water to drink, cook, flush or bath is a catastrophe.
We’ve noticed that some of the big corporations and the rich are sorting themselves out. A large well-known hotel chain, which cannot afford to lose Cape Town as a major tourist city, is building their own desalination system so that paying guests can bath like there’s no tomorrow. Some others will truck water in from private companies.
What Will We Do?
Has God Forgotten Cape Town? You know he hasn’t! So, how can we pray? We will pray, “God, please send rain to Cape Town, and in the meantime help us to see you in the storm.” We will use this as an opportunity to tell people about a great God who has not forgotten his people. We will be strengthened by trusting our sovereign Creator to a greater degree. We will invite people, as Peter did in 1 Peter 5:7, to cast “all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” We will keep on conserving water, understanding that our current water crisis in not a temporary phenomenon that will be resolved in a year or two – it’s a long-term reality.
All of this makes me think of crazy but faithful Elijah and his prayer for rain. How can you not love the story from 1 Kings 18 as God sends Elijah to deliver an important message to the fasting Ahab, “Then Elijah said to Ahab, “Go up, eat and drink; for there is the sound of abundance of rain.” So Ahab went up to eat and drink. And Elijah went up to the top of Carmel; then he bowed down on the ground, and put his face between his knees.” You know the rest of the story … all of a sudden, “There is a cloud, as small as a man’s hand, rising out of the sea!” And the rest is history.