Cape Town Residents Begin Stockpiling Water Ahead of Government Shutdown of Taps

Hundreds of residents in Cape Town, one of Africa’s largest economic and tourism hubs, are lining up nightly to stock up on water from natural springs ahead of a planned government shutdown of the city’s pipes following three years of crippling drought, Reuters reported.

Levels in the dams that supply the city’s drinking water, as well as those of communities nearby, fell to 25 percent of capacity this week, down from 38 percent a year ago and 100 percent four years ago. Its largest reservoir, the Theewaterskloof Dam, is down to 12.4 percent.

Cape Town began limiting water usage in early February to 13 gallons a day per person — seven times less than the average U.S. citizen uses. Officials said the city’s taps could run dry by May 11, a day they’ve dubbed “Day Zero,” after which Cape Town’s 4 million residents will be restricted to 6.5 gallons of water collected at some 200 military- or police-guarded water stations currently being set up across the city.

South Africa’s water crisis is the result of the region’s worst drought in over a century, but one that many scientists say is indicative of the continent’s growing risk of severe and more frequent droughts due to climate change. The dams that supply Cape Town’s water resources are entirely fed by rainfall, which climate models project will become increasingly unpredictable in the coming decades. Cape Town’s water crisis also has been exacerbated by the region’s burgeoning population.

“I think there is going to be chaos,” resident Saleigh van der Schyff told Reuters as he waited in line to collect water at 11 PM. “I hope Day Zero never comes, but I can see with people wanting to come here and the desperation for water, we are soon going to realize that water is more valuable than oil.”