Day Zero yet to come but the struggle has begun

(This article was first published on 3 February 2018 in the Weekend Argus, a weekly regional newspaper distributed in the Western Cape, South Africa.)

Written by Yazeed Kamaldien

Day Zero may have been predicted to land on April 16 but it arrived earlier this week when water barely trickled from my taps.

It started one evening when I was in the bathroom about to take a shower – not the most convenient time and place. I decided to wait until the next day to take a shower but still there was not much improvement.

I tweeted the City of Cape Town, wanting to know whether water restrictions were in place, as I hadn’t seen much noise about it. They replied with a tweet pointing to water rationing that had begun.

“Water rationing is the start of our critical water shortages disaster plan. It will last as long as is necessary to ensure we all have access to basic water supply and until dam levels increase sufficiently or alternative water supply measures become available,” reads the city’s website.

Basically, the water pressure had been decreased so the amount of water coming out of my tap was much less than usual. On top of that, as I’m not staying on the ground floor, the water doesn’t reach my apartment due to the decreased pressure.

The next alternative was a no-brainer: take a shower at the gym. But then I got a text message from Virgin Active saying their water supply was “limited” too. At the time they said the “municipality cannot provide a resolution time” but this has since been resolved.

Virgin Active gym message that they did not have water supply. Picture: Yazeed Kamaldien

Being without water regular water supply at various intervals this week was tough. While my shower and kitchen taps had supplied grey water for plants and flushing the toilet, without this supply there was nothing else. I hadn’t up until this point needed to stand at Newlands or Muizenberg spring for water.

I realised that I was actually not fully prepared for Day Zero. In a state of panic, I rushed to retailers to get a 25-litre bucket for the day we need to all start standing in line at those dreaded collection points. I also got a large drum to harvest water as tanks are sold out at most shops too.

The small water sprayer that I bought at a local supermarket was not going to offer a proper alternative to a shower either, so I spent half a day seeking out a bigger one. All three retailers I went to, including Makro, were sold out of water sprayers.

Nobody had five-litre water bottles for sale either. One supermarket weirdly had empty boxes on the top shelf with a sign that read “empty boxes”. Was this meant to be some weird joke?

Why would a retailer place empty water boxes on its shelves? Picture: Yazeed Kamaldien

And by now my dishes were piling up too. Truth be told, it usually piles up anyway, whether there’s a water crisis or not, but it suddenly became more visible when faced with limited water supply.

Facebook friends were full of useful advice on how to minimise dirty dishes. There were suggestions of using wet wipes, lining a pan with foil to avoid grease build-up and the more obvious choice of using disposable paper plates.

What do you with your dishes when there’s no water? Picture: Yazeed Kamaldien

I’m not too keen on using paper plates though as this feels like simply creating another problem. If we begin to create more waste it would have an impact some time later. And this is why one wonders what will happen with all the empty plastic bottles, considering that consumers are buying so many bottles of water.

I asked various people on the local government’s Day Zero team. Premier Helen Zille responded to that question.

“We should recycle all plastic bottles in the normal recycling containers, and these bottles are no exception,” she offered.

But let’s be honest: where are these “normal recycling containers”. Most residents don’t have any form of recycling collection points in their neighbourhood.

The plastic is obviously going to be dumped in the garbage and end up in some local government rubbish dump without being sorted from the rest of the mess for recycling.

Already, before Day Zero has officially been declared, the effect of what this would have is being felt. And man, it’s going to be a struggle.



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