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Water Management, the Capetonian way. What India can learn from it?

December 14, 2019 02:12 PM

We all heard sometime back that Capetown, the capital of South Africa narrowly escaped the spectre of ‘day zero’ due to its acute water crisis.‘Day Zero’ in environment management terminology implies that Capetown would have been on the verge of its water taps being turned off or the water distributionwould have been rationed to almost 1/3rd of its normal usage, limited to 25 litres per person/ day in line with World Health Organization (WHO) minimum short-term emergency survival recommendations from 81 litres being used regularly by more than 60% population.A step further in this would have been that water would have been distributed through community standpipes to residents.
However, Cape Town, South Africa's "Mother City" averted a crisis of this magnitude with alacrity.It taught the Capetonians to retain their crisis management mode to future proof themselves to withstand water insecurity and drought conditions expected to occur frequently, given the climate change happening around the world.
Given that water is finite, it is a precious resource. Stress on water supplies caused by increasing urbanisation and population growth has become a global phenomenon, with over two-thirds of the world projected to live in urban areas by 2050 and the world population projected to increase to over 10 billion by 2050. The use of water has been growing at more than twice the rate of human population growth in the past hundred years, with the global water withdrawals having more than doubled since 1960. Nearly 25% of the world population facesa water crisis which cannot be ignored. As of today, 44 countries are experiencing high levels of baseline water stress, which is almost 1/3rd of the planet for whom the available water supply is depleted annually by on an average 40%. Out of these, 17 countries are in the extremely alarming list with the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) as the most water-stressed regions on Earth. India alone holds more than 3 times the population of the other 16 countries in the list. India is the first country outside of MENA, with the other top three being Qatar, Israel and Lebanon where over 80% water is not re-used.
It is interesting to note the measures Capetown took for water management. They called it Level 3 Water Restrictions, restricting the daily limit per person, which if exceeded would invite fines. They did not hesitate in publishing the name-and-shame list showing addresses using maximum water, thus adding to the fervor of water management. Green lawns no longer became owners’ pride as the neighbors would comment passive-aggressively. Initially, it did feel bad to give up the idea of having acres of rolling lawns. Dirty cars were embraced. Rinse water from washing machine loads was saved for flushing No. 2s and to the extent of sounding extreme, even no. 1 went through the scrutiny of “if it is yellow, let it mellow”. Water recycling systems, water management devices were installed in domestic properties. Retrofitting of spray hoses with efficient nozzles was done for all the new sales as well as the already in use spray hoses. Pressure reduction in municipal pipes was controlled through localised pump stations. Leaks were fixed at record rate. Almost every household was required to install rainwater collection tanks. The average size of pools more or less halved and many started relying on the city’s nascent non-potable water industry. Also, the idea of coverless pools became a big taboo. Capetonians set up websites displaying current dam and consumption levels. Water use tips on how to save household water were published across various channels, along with radio adverts, flyers in water bills, to billboards around Cape Town. Residents appreciated tips like navy showers (short stop-start showers), use of buckets for bathing instead of showers and for water from showering to be captured and used to flush toilets, encouraging let the “yellow mellow” at home, work, schools, malls, etc. They started flushing with grey water only or setting up and using“permission stalls” in which people were authorised not to flush.
Capetonians sure went all out in their water management - their resolve and collective effort was creditworthy and reminded the world that there is tremendous scope for many simple measures to be adopted to conserve water, our existential resource. Even Australia, during a millennium drought exacerbated by climate change, nearly halved its domestic water usage showing how effective management can save a country on the brink of water stress.
Our metros in India also need to set up their Statements of Intent based on the strategy for water management adopted by Capetonians. There needs to be a long-term strategy for water supply and demand management for urban, industrial, and agricultural users. Such a strategy should include diversity of water sources, equity of service provisions, thoughtful and forceful messaging, early warning systems. If we can practice even some of these in the normal times, we can not only save ourselves from any impending crisis, but also can create a pathway for future generations.
In the past, we had spiritual rain-makers but given the magnitude of the issue where roughly 50% of the world’s projected 9.7 billion people will live in water-stressed regions by 2050, we can’t hope for such miracles on consistent basis unless all the stakeholders, i.e., the local, state and central governments, corporates andthe public constantly nudge each other to create sustainable water systems, essential to not only maintain health and wellbeing but also to create social and economic impact globally.***

About the Author:
DevanshiGuglani, an environment activist, a high school student in United World College of South East Asia in Singapore, has contributed this article. Devanshi has been living in Singapore since past 9 years but has always been connected to India as her home country. She is a keen debater, and also leads over 50 Global Community service initiatives at her school.

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