Climate Bellwether? With Cape Town Almost Out of Water, "Day Zero" Looms

For residents of Cape Town, “Day Zero” is getting closer.

That’s the day when taps in the drought-stricken coastal South African city are projected run dry, and its residents would be forced to head to police-guarded distribution sites to obtain their daily ration of water.

“Anyone who works in climate change knows that we’ve given lots of quite doomsday-esque scenarios in the last two decades. This is the first one which I’ve really seen come true.”
—climatologist Simon GearThe city warned last week that the day was “now likely to happen.” And on Monday, the city, citing a drop in dam levels, moved the projected day up from April 22 to April 12. 

“We have reached a point of no return,” Cape Town Mayor Patricia de Lille said last week announcing tightened water restrictions for the city’s 4 million residents. Starting Feb. 1, residents face a 50 liter per day limit (13.2 gallons). [For comparison, Americans’ daily home use is 88 gallons of water, the EPA says.]

When Day Zero hits, the limit will be 25 liters per day, to be collected at one of 200 water collection points. Agence France-Presse reports: “With about 5,000 families for each water collection point, the police and army are ready to be deployed to prevent unrest in the lines.”

USA Today, however, reported that “Each collection point will accommodate around 20,000 people per day.”

Cape Town is being described as the first major city in the developed world that would run out of water.

Erik Solheim, head of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), tweeted Wednesday of the looming day, “Is this the new normal?”