Learning what drought means
I'm in Cape Town this week for Adaptation Futures. We've all heard about the drought, the water restrictions, and the threat of Day Zero which has fortunately receded. It's only being here though that you realise what that means in practice; hand sanitizer not taps in the toilets, bathplugs removed so you can't run that water-intensive bath, the signs exhorting 90-second showers, and above all the fact that water, rain, and dam levels are the only topic of conversation in town (except when the football's on).
It brings home what this sort of drought means in practice, and the level of behaviour change that has been required to reduce the city's water use by over half. The rains have been good so far, dam levels are back up to around 36%, and my Cape Town friends are walking around with some of the anxiety lifted, for now at least. But the scale of the challenge remains huge, and highlights the need for cities and governments around the world to plan and act seriously on water use and management.
Cape Town will hopefully emerge from this crisis as a far more water-resilient city. The lessons learned, infrastructure and social systems put in place, and behaviour changes which have taken place should help prepare the city for further droughts. There are two very interesting questions for me which remain open:
- 1) As the threat of immediate crisis recedes how will water use change? Will it bounce back to its former level, or can the city reduce water use more permanently?
- 2) If water use does increase again, does the experience that the city and its population has been through make it quicker and easier to reduce consumption again in the future if needed?