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World's water-stressed cities show the way for Cape Town‚ says UCT expert

19 April 2017

Two weeks after Capetonians were told they had less than 100 days of water left‚ dam levels have dropped another four percentage points. And no rain is expected for the rest of April.

While Cape Town’s water situation seems dire‚ it has only recently joined the ranks of water-stressed cities. Late last year Los Angeles and São Paulo experienced worse water crises‚ with dam levels dropping below 7%.

“It’s not news to acknowledge we are in a global warming stage‚” said Professor Kevin Winter of the Future Water Institute at the University of Cape Town.

“We have broken records for temperature for the last three years globally‚ and 2016 alone was the warmest year on record. A lot of these are factors showing there is much greater uncertainty regarding the atmosphere‚ and have begun to create the kind of disturbances responsible for these major droughts.”

Xanthea Limberg‚ the City of Cape Town mayoral committee member for utilities‚ told TimesLIVE dam levels had dropped to 23.2%.

Despite only getting around 9mm of rain a month so far this year‚ Cape Town has received a substantial amount more than cites such as Aswan and Lima‚ which rely on less than a centimetre of rainfall a year.

“We are still highly reliant on surface water‚ which is not an approach we can continue to hold in a warming climate‚” said Winter.

“We must rethink where our water comes from and realise that we can’t rely on surface waters any longer‚ just as these other cities have.”

Lima has begun to use water collection nets to capitalise on the ocean fog that collects in its surrounding mountains.

Winter notes that while other cities have found the formula to turn around their water crises‚ Cape Town is in the early stages and it is too soon to tell whether a turnaround is possible.

“We are just coming out of the starting blocks‚ and at the moment we don’t have enough policy in place to assist the growth and development of the technologies needed to manage the water more efficiently. We really need to open up our thinking towards a green economy stance on water management‚” he said.

Mayor Patricia de Lille announced in February that failure to stem dam usage would result in a water price hike of 50% and the pumping of treated wastewater back into the system.

Story by Justin Deffenbacher. This story was first published on TimesLIVE.