Cape Town Water Crisis: A terrifying global trend

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How much water do you use in your daily life? If you take a shower every day you are using 21 gallons daily. The average person uses 9.1 gallons per day just flushing the toilet. Obviously, washing your hands, brushing your teeth, washing your clothes and drinking water also contribute. However, not so obviously, the food you consume also uses water. For example, a 1/3-pound burger requires 660 gallons of water to make, a cup of coffee takes 37 gallons of water to grow, and one slice of bread takes 10 gallons to produce.

The average American uses 100 gallons of water daily. That number does not even account for the water required to make the food you eat and the clothes you wear. There is little awareness about the copious amounts of water we use in our day to day lives. However, this has recently changed for the residents of Cape Town. Scientists say that Cape Town, South Africa will be the first major city to run out of water. The signs of this upcoming crisis can already be seen in the bathrooms of airports, whose faucets have run dry and soap has been replaced with hand sanitizer.

This city has been experiencing the worst drought it has encountered in 100 years. Since 2015, the average rainfall of the region has fallen to less than 15 inches per year. Residents of Cape Town have been urged to consume less water, but most of the citizens ignored the suggested restrictions. This January the city imposed more dramatic cuts, asking their people to consume only 50 liters, roughly 13 gallons, per day with steep monetary penalties for overuse. With citizens finally restricting their use, the initially-expected Day Zero in April, in which 13.5 percent of the usable water will remain, has now been pushed back to August.

David Oliver, a researcher at the Global Change Institute at South Africa’s University of the Witwatersrand, claims, “The fundamental problem is the kind of lifestyle we’re living. There’s almost a sense of entitlement that we have a right to consume as much as we want. The attitude and reaction of most posts on social media is indignation. It’s ‘we pay our taxes’ and therefore we should be as comfortable as possible.”

The crisis in Cape Town shows us that we are running out of water. It is time for us to realize that water is not a renewable resource we are entitled to use as much of as we desire. It is time for us to realize the consequences to our actions and begin to ask ourselves what we can do to reduce our water consumption.

There many easy ways to reduce your personal water consumption; it can be as easy as turning the water on in the shower only when rinsing, turning water off while brushing your teeth or washing your hands, or fixing leaks around your house. Another way to conserve water is to eat less meat, take showers less often and wash your clothes less often. It is essential now to realize that the water crisis in Cape Town is a global issue, and we should all be evaluating the water we consume in our daily lives.

It is important that people take what is happening in Cape Town not as a terrifying exception but as a problematic global trend. Day Zero is something that will spread to other cities because of the alarming fact that we are running out of water. Fourteen out of the twenty global cities are currently experiencing water scarcity. Climate change will result in more extreme periods of drought and our overuse of water will drive us towards water crises around the globe. It is important that we respond to this crisis in Cape Town by trying to conserve more water and reduce our emissions, not by turning our heads and hiding in fear of it.


Samantha Pierce is a contributor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at samantha.pierce@uconn.edu.

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