WATER ISSUES

It doesn’t happen too often, it most certainly never happens in a positive context (apart from occasional travel stories): news or articles about South Africa in Finnish media. Well, Day Zero in Cape Town has made news. Those of you who don’t know what Day Zero is, take a look here. Both articles in Finnish.

Our German Cape Town neighbour, who only spends a few months in Cape Town every year, keeps sending me WhatsApp messages asking “how is the water situation in our complex?” He is well aware we nowadays lives in Finland. He clearly doesn’t trust locals’ views and observations.

CAPE TOWN WATER CRISIS AND US

We just spent about a month in Cape Town. With two minute showers. Even Sporty gave up his “before morning run” showers. Talky was happy with once a week shower. We didn’t flush after every single loo visit. We did full loads of laundry, and duly obeyed the recommendation to “drink wine, save water”. We didn’t wash our hands, but we never really do. That’s actually one thing we often joked about with Finns in Cape Town: Finnish people are so hysterical with washing their hands, and they still end up being sick often.

We listened our neighbour taking a bath (BBAAADDDD), and our complex gardener watering the plants (WTF).

CAPE TOWN WATER CRISIS AND LOCALS

At the time of our visit, people we socialised with were water conscious. Pool covers were taken off for special occasions, like Christmas Day. There were big buckets in shower boxes collecting water. Flushing was a no-no. Water wasters were named and shamed on public forums.

People were talking about boreholes, collecting rainwater, doing dishes by hand, and cutting their hair short. Not taking a shower every day. Joking about digging holes in backyards to replace toilets.

From what I gather from social media, reality only hit Cape Town after I left the city in mid-January. It might actually happen. It’s likely to happen. In case you’re interested in doing a deep dive into local mindset, take a look at FB group called Water Shedding Cape Town. There you can find a link, for example, to City Water Map indicating on property level the bad guys who exceed their water allowance. Or you might want to calculate your daily water usage. Mine in Helsinki is about 400 litres per day. Capetonians get 50.

Now people are getting ready to collect their daily water allowance (25 l pps per day) in canisters, anxiously looking for affordable eco toilets, and half-jokingly making evacuation plans.

CAPE TOWN WATER  CRISIS AND TOURISM

This is a tricky issue. Should people be discouraged from visiting Cape Town? Should major events, such as Mining Indaba, Two Oceans Marathon and Cape Town Cycle Tour be cancelled?

Obviously visitors add to water usage. Especially foreign (western) ones, who are used to unlimited, uninterrupted supply of everything, especially water. [I still remember, how absurd it was to realise that there is such thing as load shedding. As electricity just is. Period.] Two minute shower and no flushing is “unpleasant” and “uncomfortable”. Something nearly primitive… Like being in Africa. Not the Cape-Town-Africa-hey-this-is-almost-like-at-home-Africa. Nasty feelings of guilt. “We are using their precious water”.

On the other hand. Tourism is an extremely important industry for Cape Town and Western Cape. Economically yes, but even more importantly in terms of employment. The industry is a significant employer of low skilled workforce. Meaning poor and uneducated people. In a country where governmental social security is next to none, becoming unemployed often means losing everything. On top of that, one person often is a sole provider for a whole extended family.

Conclusion? Up to you to decide.

CAPE TOWN WATER CRISIS AND ME

Judging from my comfy Helsinki flat with endless water supply both in and outdoors.

I’m in no position to make a statement about the causes (apart from what I witnessed with my own eyes: very little rain) and guilty parties (local government vs. national government vs. citizens using too much water vs. agriculture vs. influx of people vs. etc.).

But. For the first time in five years I have no clue when I’m next going to Cape Town. There are other reason for that, too, but I just can’t live without a toilet. It is completely possible to survive at least a couple of weeks without shower, as proved during a hike in Nepal a few years ago. Furthermore, as a Finn I’m used to all sorts of “eco toilets” and no running water, as we still have a huussi (dry toilet) at our no-running-water summer house. But that’s in a middle of nowhere by a lake. Not in a city.

Therefore, I cannot really blame people for avoiding Cape Town. I wouldn’t pay thousands of euros to get into a place with no flush toilets. [well, actually I would, and I’ve done so, but that’s a whole different story]

Yet honestly, I think this situation is a healthy reminder for many privileged people on what is normal to many. Sort of falls in the same category with my idea of including a mandatory 4 week study trip to Africa (not Cape Town, especially not Cape Town with water) in the Finnish primary school curriculum. Might do good to a whole bunch of nonsense whining, and teach some appreciation for the luxury life we have.

SO WHAT DO I BELIEVE IN

There are instances who claim Day Zero can be avoided. I hope they are right. As a matter of fact I believe they are right. I believe South Africans and Capetonians are empowered by miraculous resilience and adaptability to overcome all gloomy dooms.

Will it be messy and chaotic? For a short period, yes. With a lot of laughing, funny jokes and memes. However, it will quickly become a new normal, and so life goes on. And then some day, sooner or later, it will rain again.

 

Photos taken in Fish River Canyon, Namibia, where water played a big role

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