Running (out of) Water

Theeuwaterskloof

I didn’t believe this would happen. Or perhaps, in all honesty, I didn’t want to believe it would happen. But the likelihood of the Western Cape running out of water is now a very real scenario.

Lack of appreciation

Theewaterskloof comparison

Rainfall has been steadily declining the past few years and dams like Theewaterskloof, the biggest supplier of water to the Cape, have dropped by 20% each year since 2014. 20% is not a small number, which ultimately begs the question why weren’t these conversations happening sooner? And if they were, why have we been so slow to react?

Nevertheless, I’m not here to harp on about that. Instead, I’d like to focus on three questions:

  1. What happens when we do in fact run out of water?
  2. What contributed to us ending up in this position?
  3. What changes in our collective attitude do we need to make?

1.Life without water

As always, the hardest hit would be the impoverished in the region who already have limited access to water. The majority of us take it for granted that we can just open a tap and, whammy, there it is.

Those of us in more privileged positions would at least be able to buy bottled water to drink. It’s the bathing and keeping clean which would no doubt affect people the most as well as sanitation.

Necessity is the mother of invention, maybe a good month or two will show us all how we can be more resourceful with our water and use it sparingly. Water is life and such a jolt to our systems to remind us might do the trick.

In my opinion this isn’t a ’recent’ problem though. I think this has been developing for quite some time.

2.Where it began

Before I go further, I’d like to mention the meat industry. They use a tremendous amount of water amongst other key problems they contribute to. You can read an informative article HERE for an in-depth look.

My focus is more on our lack of respect for the environment. It isn’t just South Africa – all around the world our cultures are ever more inwardly focused. Selfies, obsessions over more post likes, the boom in cosmetic surgery and dissociative behaviour towards any crisis not affecting people personally.

It’s no wonder our collective disregard for any water source has become normal.

Exhibit A: Just look at how few Americans (besides Native Americans) are fighting to protect the Missouri River from an oil pipeline.

Take for example any river in and around Cape Town – would you drink out of it? I definitely wouldn’t. Yet settlements all around the world that became large cities were all originally chosen for their proximity to water – Paris, London, Berlin, Baghdad, you name it. Communities need these types of water sources in order to survive.

Now think of the streams around Table Mountain that, as yet, are still so clean and tasty they put any bottled water to shame. Imagine Eerste Rivier and Black River were just as sanitary.

Everyone’s going to be affected; although I’m sure the exceptionally wealthy will come up with ways to ship in water for use. What a wonderful opportunity for us to work together on solutions going forward which will benefit everyone in our communities.  This brings me to my next point.

3.Collective changes needed

We really need to work on how we:

  1. Store more water
  2. Respect where we live and not pollute our existing water sources
  3. Maintain our reduction in water use post-drought and water restrictions
  4. Educate our children about water

As our population continues to grow and weather patterns become more and more erratic, thanks to global warming and climate change, we need to be thinking not just about this year. Or the next. Or even a decade into the future. This is a long term plan.  Thirty years down the line. Maybe even more.

What are we doing to protect our water for the next generations? Because if we know generations fifty years from now are sorted – that means we’re sitting pretty.

Global phenomenon

One down side to industrialisation is the fact our collective efforts have allowed us to become lazy. Unless you live in rural South Africa of course and are one of the c.74% who only have access to ground water (from wells, pumps etc.) But for most of us urbanites, we simply switch on a tap and voilà. If we had to walk, carry and then treat the water ourselves perhaps we’d be less inclined to litter and pollute our water sources. (It varies from country to country, but even in these cases we can see high levels of pollution). Just take a drive past Black River to get a sense of how bad we are.

WWF Journey of Water
Black River near Cape Town

Moving forward

Our biggest challenge is that this is a collective effort. It’s no good if some aren’t on board. This is where we as citizens must rise and step in when people so blatantly litter. For example, something as seemingly small as a smoker dropping their butt out of a car window. If I’m at a traffic light and I see this happen, I get out and hand it back: “Sorry – I think you dropped this”.

Obviously this is not a quick fix. We need to be realistic and understand that the majority of societies have zero regard for the environment.

At Afrikaburn, an event in the desert that has radical self-reliance as a core principle, there are 13 000 partakers and they need 4 000 volunteers. Their motto is “One burner, one shift” and it works.

Conceivably mandatory community service (whatever your social status is) will start changing attitudes? This isn’t a complete solution to the very grave issue we’re facing, but perhaps four hours a week picking up litter and trudging through our polluted rivers that smell to high heaven will start us down the right road? How long would it take to improve the environment around us?

We’ve lost touch with nature. We’ve been lost for more than a century, I think.

It’s time to start reconnecting; before it really is too late.

My favourite line in Bruce Almighty, is when Morgan Freeman (playing God) declares ‘No matter how filthy something gets, you can always clean it right up’

Our situation is no different.

Clearest Lake
The dream

5 thoughts on “Running (out of) Water

  1. Great article, as you say one of the great problems of our time is “instant gratification” where no work is required to obtain luxuries or resources. This results in people placing no value on things that really should be very important to them.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The root of the problem is in fact “our growing population”. We cannot just see this as some immutable fact of the universe no problem of poverty, inequality, unemployment or climate change can be solved without first limiting growth and indeed _reducing_ population!

    Liked by 1 person

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