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Kids in Langa Township, Cape Town
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Water & Sanitation

For Nearly 1 Million People in Cape Town, the Water Apocalypse Has Already Arrived

For as many as 1 million people in Cape Town, Day Zero concerns are nothing new.

That’s because many of the city’s poorest residents lack running water in their homes and already use less than the municipal government’s 50-liter daily water ration mandate.

In the city’s unincorporated settlements, residents — who make up more than 20% of Cape Town’s population — collect water at community taps and account for just 4% of the city’s total water use, according to Elitsha, a local news organization.

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Few of the city’s wealthier residents have decreased their daily water use to 50 liters per day, the New York Times reported. Yet, overall consumption has dropped, enabling Cape Town to delay Day Zero — the date when the municipal water supply sinks below 13.5% capacity and forces the government is forced to shut off taps around the city.

Last week, Cape Town pushed Day Zero to July 9, just a few weeks after predicting the city would dry up by April 22. Cape Town’s current daily water consumption of about 523 million liters —139 million gallons— is less than half of what it was four years ago, The New York Times reported.

Now, Cape Town’s deputy mayor said, “defeating Day-Zero is in sight.”

But even if the city staves off a complete water shutdown, hundreds of thousands of Capetonians will continue to ration their water, Cape Town University Professor Kirsty Carden, a water use expert, told Global Citizen.

Read More: What Life Is Like on 13 Gallons of Water a Day — Cape Town's New Reality

Along with Cape Town’s low-income residents, roughly 2 billion people worldwide lack access to reliable drinking water water.  

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The water crisis has increased awareness about the value of water and the extent of water inequality, but it does not seem to have galvanized support for better infrastructure, Carden told Global Citizen.

Read More: Photos of Cape Town in Crisis as the City's Water Runs Out

Carden said the pending water shutdown would not have a significant impact on informal settlement residents because they already have limited access to water.

“The average water use in informal settlements is currently around 40-liters per person per day, so they are not being rationed any further than what they are using,” Carden told Global Citizen.

The municipal water systems in the settlements generally consist of community taps — about one for every 25 homes — and shared toilets, Carden said

Still, even though they lack consistent running water, residents of the unincorporated settlements have contributed to the declining of rate water consumption.

"Before, I was using two kettles of water to wash myself," settlement resident Vuyo Kazi told the Associated Press. "So now I use one kettle of water."