The water chooses where it will flow in Cape Town

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When Cape Town’s locals ration water for the day, the region’s vineyards are irrigated by irrigation pipes, reflecting the sharp division of the country’s precious resource.

It has been four years since the tourist capital of South Africa almost ran out, during a drought that caused the city to limp towards a “Day Zero” when all pipes would be emptied.

Now the water flows generously, but not for everyone. South Africa is the most unequal country in the world, with race playing a decisive factor, a World Bank report said last week.

People fill their buckets with water at one of the few functioning taps in Zwelitsha, an informal settlement in Khayelitsha that is home to millions of people in mostly poor conditions, near Cape Town, South Africa, February 24, 2022. (AFP Photo)

The cranes in Shadrack Mogress’ house in the Khayelitsha township run only periodically and rarely at full pressure. So at 56, he wakes up early to refill a barrel while the water flows, so that his household of six can drink and wash all day.

Shadrack Mogress, 56, watches as the faucet in his house slowly fills a bucket in Zwelitsha, an informal settlement in Khayelitsha that is home to millions of people in mostly poor circumstances, near Cape Town, South Africa, February 24, 2022. (AFP image)

“We also have to take from that water to use the toilet, which is an insult at the end of the day,” Mogress said. “We have toilets here. We have showers here. We can not use them,” he said. “Our children go to school in the morning around 06.00. Sometimes there is no water at that time,” he added.

Congress said he contacted city officials several times about the issues but has not heard back. “We’re in the middle of a pandemic here, and we do not even have water to wash our hands,” he said.

City cars that deliver water to the community are unreliable, says Sandile Zatu, a 45-year-old resident.

Sandile Zatu, 45, resident of Zwelitsha, an informal residence in Khayelitsha, talks about water supply problems in the community, near Cape Town, South Africa, 24 February 2022. (AFP Photo)

“We have no choice but to wake up in the morning and try to fill our bucket as much as possible,” he added.

During the drought, city-wide efforts to save water created a sense of common purpose. Everyone avoided flushing toilets, gave up watering plants and left their cars dirty for months.

“At the time, we knew we were in trouble,” Mogress said. “But it’s worse because we have water and we know it.”

Pools in Cape Town’s elegant suburbs have water, but the city estimates that about 31 districts do not have access to clean water. It includes vast districts filled with shacks, but also working-class neighborhoods. Ironically, COVID-19 provided better water supply to some areas.

A woman carries a bucket of water that she filled at a tap nearby in Zwelitsha, an informal settlement in Khayelitsha that is home to millions of people in mostly poor conditions, near Cape Town, South Africa, February 24, 2022. (AFP Photo)

The state of emergency, which authorized lock-in measures, also enabled the authorities to supply more water to encourage better washing. If the state of emergency is interrupted, the city will lose funding to supply water, said city water official Zahid Badroodien.

Zahid Badroodien, Mayor’s Committee Member for Community Services and Health in the City of Cape Town, talks about water supply, at his office, near Cape Town, South Africa, 24 February 2022. (AFP Photo)

Badroodien said the city invested millions of rands in the aging water infrastructure, adding that a “Day Zero” was “inevitable”.

But it is more difficult for the city to provide reliable water services in some areas because “funding is tied up in existing projects to try to establish services in existing communities.”

“At the same time, the safety of our officials is becoming a problem in these areas, where I know for sure that our tankers have been hijacked, our officials have been hijacked, they have been held up under gun threats,” he said.

Jo Barnes, a water expert at Stellenbosch University, said the city has shown poor planning for future droughts. “Not planning for the next drought, which may be around the corner, sounds like a suicide to me,” she said.

“We get more and more people, and we have the same volume of water. So if we do not do something magical, we will encounter the same problem again,” she added.

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