December 5, 2022

‘Day Zero’: This city is counting down the days until its water taps run dry

7 min read


Every day, Morris loads his wheelbarrow full of empty plastic containers and pushes it to the faucet as he walks closer to his home. It’s a long way from the usual walk to the kitchen sink – just under a mile – but it’s not the distance that bothers him.

This is an emerging road – running between cramped huts and gray-funded houses – which makes it difficult to balance 70-liter water containers on the way back.

“When you pour 70kg of water into a wheelbarrow, the house feels far away,” said a 49-year-old resident of the poor South African town of Quanobohle.

In March, taps in parts of Quanobuhela dried up, and since then, thousands of residents have relied on a single collective tap to provide drinking water to their homes. And the town is one of many in the Nelson Mandela Bay area of ​​Gqeberha, relying on a system of four dams that have been drying up for months. It hasn’t rained so hard to fill them.

One week ago, a dam was closed because the level had dropped so low that any real water could be pumped out – its pipes were only sucking mud. The other is just that. Days are far from empty.

Now most of the city is being counted on “Day Zero”, the day when all the taps are dry, when no reasonable amount of water can be extracted. It’s about two weeks, until the authorities take their response seriously.

Severe damage to the greater Eastern Cape region of South Africa Perennial drought between 2015 and 2020Which destroyed the local economy, especially its agricultural sector. It had a slight recovery before it slipped into drought again at the end of 2021.

Like many of the world’s worst natural resource crises, severe water shortages are a combination of changing climatic patterns due to poor management and man-made climate change.

Morris Malmbail says he has to push the wheelbarrow full of water every day.

On top of that, thousands of leaks throughout the water system mean that a lot of the water coming out of the pipes from the dams can never really be made into homes. Poor maintenance, such as a failed pump in the main water supply, has exacerbated the situation.

She has left Malmbile – who lives with her sister and her four children – for the past three months and has had no choice but to walk her whale bar through the township every day. Without this daily ritual, he and his family would have no drinking water at all.

“People who don’t live here don’t know what it’s like to wake up in the morning, and the first thing on your mind is water,” said Malumbail. His family has enough containers to hold 150 liters of water, but he fills about half of the water every day while the rest is used at home.

“Tomorrow, they’re empty, and I’ll have to bring them back,” he said. “It’s my routine, every day, and it’s tiring.”

The chances of significant rainfall to help replenish the reservoir look bleak, and if things continue as they are, about 40 percent of the wider city of Gakiberha will have no water left at all.

The Eastern Cape depends on a climatic system called the “Cut of Loose”. Slow-moving weather systems can produce more than 50 millimeters (approximately 2 inches) of rain in 24 hours, followed by days of continuous wet weather. The problem is that this kind of rain is not coming yet.

The next few months don’t paint a promising picture. In its Climate Outlook, the South African Meteorological Service has forecast below normal rainfall.

This is not a recent trend. For nearly a decade, the catchment areas of Nelson Mandela Bay’s major supply dams have received below-average rainfall. The water level has gradually dropped to the point where the four dams sit at a combined level of less than 12% of their normal capacity. Less than 2% of the remaining water supply is usable, according to city officials.

Cape Town’s 2018 water crisis is fresh in people’s minds, caused by previous, severe droughts as well as administrative problems. Residents of the city will line up for 50 liters of water each day individually for fear of reaching Day Zero. It never really got to that point, but it got dangerously close. Strict rationing enabled the city to halve water use and avoid the worst-case scenario.

And without expecting heavy rain, Nelson Mandela Bay officials are worried about their day zero, urging residents to dramatically reduce their water use. Joseph Tsair, the municipality’s water distribution manager, said they had no choice.

“Although it is difficult to monitor how much each person consumes, we hope to convey the message that it is very important that each person consumes 50 liters per person per day,” he said. Said

A sign urging residents on the outskirts of Gqeberha to limit their water use.

To put it bluntly, the average American uses. Seven times more than that amount, 82 gallons (372 liters) a day.

Although some parts of the city will probably never feel the full effect of Day Zero, there are various interventions in the pipeline to help those living in the so-called “red zone” where their taps are inevitably dry.

Earlier this month, South Africa’s national government sent a high-level delegation to Nelson Mandela to take responsibility for the crisis and implement emergency strategies to augment the city’s dwindling supply.

The focus is on leak detection and repair, while plans are being made to extract “dead storage water” from the existing levels of supply dams. Holes were drilled in some places to extract groundwater.

Some interventions – including patching the leak and pumping it into the water – mean that some people who had run out of water in their home are starting to drip from their taps at night. But that is not enough, and the authorities are looking for a bigger, long-term solution to the problem that is just that. It is likely to get worse. The warmer the earth.

Workers build a water collection site in Walmer, a suburb of Gqeberha.

South Africa is prone to natural droughts, but the kind of drought that causes so much suffering and disruption. Are more frequent.

A desalination plant – to purify seawater for public use – is being explored, although such projects require months of planning, are expensive and often lead to more climatic crises. Contribute when they run on fossil fuels.

People in Kwanobuhle are worried about the future, wondering when the crisis will end.

At the collective tap, 25-year-old Babalova Maniobe fills her containers with water while her 1-year-old daughter waits in her car.

“Toilets, cooking, cleaning – these are the problems we all face when there is no running water,” he said. “But raising a child and worrying about water is a very different story. And when will it end? No one can tell us.”

In Kwanobuhle, public housing is for people with low or no income. Unemployment is on the rise and crime is on the rise. The streets are full of people looking for money. Older shipping containers serve as temporary barber shops.

On the other side of the subway is Kama Heights, a hillside suburban new town with beautiful, uninterrupted views of the city. It features a number of newly built luxury homes, and residents can often be seen sitting on their balconies, enjoying the last few rays of the sun before sunset behind the horizon.

Some Kama Heights residents are rich enough to secure a backup water supply. Rhett Sayman, 46, breathes a sigh of relief every time it rains and hears the influx of water into the tanks built around his house for the past two years.

Their plan to save money on water in the long run has proved to be an invaluable investment in securing their home water supply.

Saayman has a storage capacity of 18,500 liters. Common household water, such as bathroom, passes through a 5 micron particle filter and carbon block filter, while drinking and cooking water passes through a reverse osmosis filter.

Simon stands by one of the many water tanks at his home in Kama Heights.

“We still rely on municipal water from time to time when we don’t have enough rain, but it can be two or three times a year, and usually only for a few days at a time,” he said. Said “The last time we used municipal water was in February, and it’s been raining a lot since then.”

He added: “Looking at the way things are going around the city, it is definitely a relief to know that we have clean drinking water and enough to flush and bathe our toilets. Our investment is paying off. ”

Residents in many parts of the Gulf region are being asked to reduce their consumption so that water can be channeled through stand-up pipes – temporary pipes placed at strategic locations to divert water to areas in greater need. ۔

This means that some of the city’s wealthiest neighborhoods, such as Kama Heights, could see their water supply dwindle drastically, and they too would have to stand in line at the communal taps, as the people of Quanobohle are doing. ۔

Looking ahead, local weather officials have painted a worrying picture of the coming months, with some warnings that the problem has been left to simmer for so long, it is not possible to change it.

“We’ve been warning city officials about this for years,” said Gareth Simpson, a spokesman for the South African Weather Service in Nelson Mandela Bay. “Whether you want to blame politicians and officials for mismanagement, or the public for not protecting water, it doesn’t matter now. Raising a finger will not help anyone. The most important thing is That we are in a crisis and now we can do very little.

Water is dripping from a tap at a water collection site in the Walmer suburb of Gqeberha, South Africa.  It is one of the many collection areas in the city.

According to Simpson, catchment areas supplying Nelson Mandela Bay require about 50 mm of rain in a 24-hour period to have a significant effect on the dam surface.

“Looking at the statistics for the last several years, the best time to see our 50mm events is probably in August. If we don’t see any significant rainfall until September, then our next best chance is only around March next year. , Which is concerned, “he said.

“The only way to end this water crisis is with flooding. But fortunately, or unfortunately – depending on who you ask – any prediction of heavy rain at any time soon.” do not have.”

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