This blogpost is also available in German (auf Deutsch)
In the last blog post I had already mentioned that in Cape Town there is an extreme water shortage and Day Zero is getting closer and closer. Day Zero marks the date on which the water to the majority of Cape Town’s population will be turned off. That means there will be no more water from the sink, in the kitchen, in the toilet, etc. for at least 150 days. Instead, the Capetonians will be able to pick up 25L per person per day at one of 200 water collection points throughout Cape Town. The exact logistics for this are not yet 100 per cent figured out. Day Zero is really the worst case scenario and everyone wants to avoid it!
50 liters of water a day
Since I am here in South Africa with Jesse’s family and we are sleeping at his sister’s place, we get an even better picture and more intense experience of how it is to live with a water shortage. Only 50 liters of water per person per day are allowed (a few weeks ago it was still 87 liters). This is measured at the water meter and those who do not stick to this receive heavy fines.
On Instagram I had already addressed the whole topic and received many answers from you. Also on my last blog post I got a lot of feedback and requests from you and I can understand that you would like to know more about the whole thing. Water scarcity, water quality, privatization of water, etc. are important issues worldwide. I am personally confronted right now with the water shortage here in Cape Town.
Cape Town, tourism and the water crisis
Of course, as a tourist, it’s a strange feeling to know that you are coming to Cape Town for a holiday and that you are taking water away from the locals. But I’ve talked to my boyfriend’s sister, Amber, and her partner, Neal, and they, as well as their entire circle of friends, agree that it would dramatically hurt the city in the long run if tourism breaks now due to the water crisis. So many people are dependent on tourism for their livelihoods here. Many companies will have to close on Day Zero. The more business in the city that can continue “normally”, the better. Instead, Amber and Neal recommend that tourism should continue, but that everyone, locals AND tourists, strictly follow the water regulations.
The water scarcity is experienced directly upon arrival at the airport. There are many signs about the water shortage hanging in the toilet and a request not to flush, unless it is necessary (for example, urine should not be flushed). At the sink, the water is turned off and there is only disinfectant to clean your hands. I knew about the water crisis before and the pilot on the plane also talked about the topic several times. Nevertheless, ALL, and I mean ALL, the tourists in the toilet were confused and I had to explain to everyone that there is water shortage and there simply will not be water everywhere. “But I wanted to brush my teeth!” – (I wouldn’t recommend using the tap water right now anyway. Usually the tap water in South Africa is really great, but right now because of the low dam levels it is better to buy bottled water for it, preferably the large canisters for several days, or filter the water) – “Pas de l’eau ???” – (confused French tourist group). It really was not that dramatic. Everything was super clean, no weird smells from the toilets, and disinfectant was available from all the dispensers. That’s why I was very surprised how surprised all the tourists were.
In all restaurants or public buildings you see signs for saving water. I have not yet seen a bucket under the tap in public toilets though. Here I recommend either washing your hands extremely water-sparingly (see below for more information on saving water), or using disinfectants. Restaurants no longer just bring water to the table, but ask that you only order still water, if you really drink everything. Otherwise there is always bottled water available for purchase. This is because restaurants also have a specific water allowance per day. Every now and then you discover long lines at public drinking water sources with people waiting for this free water – so that they can use more water than 50L per day, or to already stockpile a water supply before Day Zero.
As a tourist, you experience everything that is associated with the water shortage but it is really not dramatic to be on holiday with water regulations. I have not found it really exhausting or restrictive. Only 50 liters of water per day are allowed per person, this applies to all private individuals, and tourists should stick to it as well. Bathing is prohibited, as well as washing a car. A water leak must be reported immediately. Also in restaurants and other businesses certain regulations apply. Showering and flushing the toilet, as well as washing clothes and dishes consumes most of the water. A single toilet flush alone consumes about 9-10 liters.
So how do we save water?
- Buckets everywhere: In our apartment there are buckets under all the taps, which collect the used water. e.g. when brushing your teeth, showering or washing your hands. This “grey water” is then collected in a larger bucket, which is then used to flush the toilet when you go #2.
- I only wash my hands for a short time: I wet my hands for a moment. Shut of the faucet. Then I soap my hands very well, palms, backs of my hands, between my fingers, under my nails, etc. and then wash the soap off briefly with water. However, it is really important that you pay attention to good hygiene, while saving on the water while washing hands, but still wash you hands regularly as usual! Due to the fact that less water is flowing, bacteria can collect faster. In case of emergency you can use disinfectants.
- I brush my teeth with half a cup of water, that’s all I need, and then I do not have to run any water. Even when shaving a cup is recommended!
- When you go #1 do not flush the toilet. Instead, we just leave it, or spray a fragrance spray specifically designed for the toilet over it (for this, Jesse’s sister has something chemical, since she’s testing this for the first time, but there are natural remedies too!).
- For the big business, we rinse with the wastewater that we collect in the big bucket throughout the day. If it’s yellow, let it mellow. If it’s brown, flush it down! “
- Toilet paper should also not be used in extreme quantities, so that there are no blockages in the drainage system (and don’t throw anything else in the toilet!).
- Showering is only a maximum of 90 seconds. I thought a lot about how to do that with my curls before we came! Body is easy, but my thick hair … that’s why before we came to Cape Town I got my scalp used to not being washed as often. It’s better for your skin and hair in the long run anyway! But for most people washing hair can also be fast: turn on the tap, but not too much, just wet everything, turn off the tap, soap, shampoo your hair, turn on the tap and rinse everything. This way you use little water! I try to save even more water, otherwise I feel bad using Jesse’s sister’s water. So I take a small plastic bottle, fill it with liquid soap (for example from Dr Bronners) and water, get wet for a while and then wash myself thoroughly with the liquid soap mixture. Same for my scalp. Then I wash everything off, but do not turn the tap all the way on, and make sure to wet my hair completely. Then I’m already done and out of the shower. So I use, quite honestly (we measured), only a maximum of 10 liters. I put some conditioner in my wet hair, comb through my hair, let my hair air dry and do not rinse the conditioner out (I do not need to with my curls).
- Sometimes I do not even shower, but only wash myself off with a rag or sponge, a so-called cat wash, which makes me just as clean!
- Jesse’s sister has a washing machine that consumes only 10 liters per wash. The washing machine is always packed full! Often, clothing can also be simply air outed and it is fresh again! Also their dishwasher is water saving.
- In the kitchen, glasses and cups are simply used several times. Most practical are wooden boards, which you usually only have to rub clean. Otherwise, Jesse’s family cooks normally, but always with caution, not consuming water unnecessarily.
- Personally, I have taken single-use washcloths (not necessarily super environmentally friendly, but very handy in an emergency). Also dry shampoo could be a good option for you!
- We buy bottled water or use the ceramic and carbon filter from Jesse’s sister. I do not recommend drinking the tap water currently, just filtered (that’s how we do it) or boiled!
- Just a mini-tip: Take coal tablets with, since here and now you can get a little upset stomach.
Jesse’s sister, Amber, and her boyfriend, Neal, say the crisis is not just bringing negative headlines. The water shortage has made more people in the city aware of the preciousness of fresh water. In most parks, golf courses, etc., for example in the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, the meadows and plants are now all watered with grey water. At the Cape of Good Hope, recycled water is used for rinsing. Countless households have placed rainwater barrels in the garden in recent months. Many get, as mentioned before, water from the free drinking water sources. According to Amber and Neal, the situation also brings people together. It is only bad and chaotic when panic is spread, then water is bought rapidly in the supermarkets and the mineral water prices rise exorbitantly.
But in summary I would like to say again that I have noticed here on the ground that the fear of Day Zero is indeed there, but the fear of loosing tourism, which is a huge source of income for many people, is greater. So if you have no problem saving water like a superhero, do not be afraid to go on holiday in Cape Town!
Save water in Germany?
Because many have asked about this: yes, a conscious use of our drinking water is also important in Germany. Clean drinking water is an incredibly precious commodity. In Germany we should not just save tap water, but especially hot water, due to the high energy costs. In addition, cosmetics and detergents with microplastic should be avoided. There are no definite studies yet, but microplastic can not be good for our environment or our groundwater. When washing synthetic clothing I recommend the Guppy Bag, which collects microparticles during washing so they do not get into the wastewater.
And a much bigger topic and a topic with which we in Germany, as a water-rich country, can help water-scarce countries: the topic of virtual water! Thousands of liters of water are needed for the production of every kilo of meat, T-shirt or flowers and most of these are produced in water-poor countries! For World Water Day, I would like to write more about virtual water. Does that interest you???
I hope I have been able to answer a few of your questions with this article and share a few personal experiences with you. As I said, above I have mainly described my own impressions, as well as the opinion of my boyfriend’s family, as well as their circle of acquaintances. So I can describe the situation only from a relatively subjective point of view and not an all-inclusive perspective. Nevertheless, I hope that I was able to provide you with a relatively broad picture of the situation! Thanks in any case for your interest! I find it amazing, how important the topic “water” is for you! What I also heard from other tourists: the water crisis and their stay in Cape Town has definitely made them think more about water usage, to handle it more consciously and to better appreciate the precious commodity!