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Cape Town's main water supply from the Theewaterskloof dam outside Grabouw, Cape Town, Feb. 1, 2018.
Bram Janssen/AP
Water & Sanitation

Cape Town Has Averted Crisis for Now — But Areas Across South Africa Are Still Running Out of Water


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More than 2 billion people around the world lack access to safe drinking water, and this number is expected to increase as a result of a range of factors that threaten water availability. Join us in taking action to ensure universal access to water here.

Amanzimtoti is the isiZulu phrase for “sweet waters”. But for the residents of Egudwini in KwaZulu-Natal, the melodic name of their municipality is anything but sweet. 

The community’s water taps have reportedly been dry for years. Now their only source of clean drinking water has disappeared.

The last time trucks from the eThekwini municipality delivered water to Egudwini was in November 2018, and even though residents report seeing four water tanks — filled by the water trucks — around the community, three no longer work.

“We don’t even know when the truck is expected to come around,” one resident, Khumbuzile Nyembe told Ground Up news agency. “We have made numerous calls to the municipality but it has been a no show all of December and January.”

Take Action: Encourage South African Corporates to Invest More Funds for Water Conservation

The Amanzimtoti municipality isn’t the only one facing severe water shortages either. South Africa has been experiencing frequent droughts since 2013, with low rainfall and water reserves that are being used up faster than they can be replenished.

The crisis led to the provinces of Free State, KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga, Limpopo, and the North West being declared disaster areas in 2013. Water scarcity became a national talking point once again in 2018 when severe droughts in the Western Cape forced the city of Cape Town to restrict water usage.

Related Stories Feb. 16, 2018 Thomson Reuters Foundation Drought-Stricken Cape Town Is Learning Resilience Lessons the Hard Way

But while the city has now been able to recover from the crisis — and even avert Day Zero, when it was initially anticipated that there would no water at all in the city by April 2018 — more municipalities across the country are facing the same challenge, and it’s almost always the result of droughts.

The villages of Xonxa and Gxabane in the Lady Frere district of Eastern Cape haven’t had clean drinking water since November 2018. With dams that have become dry, access to safe drinking water isn’t possible — with villagers having to hire trucks or donkeys to fetch water from Xonxa river, half a kilometre away from the village. 

But a report by the Water Research Commission, published in March 2018, says there is also more to the water crisis than droughts that the country experienced between 2014 and 2016.

Related Stories Feb. 14, 2018 Crop-Eating Worms and Droughts Are Threatening Mass Hunger in Africa

“The drought did not cause water scarcity,” reads the report. “What the drought did was highlight existing vulnerabilities in South Africa’s water system. South Africa is a water-scarce country.”

Water pollution is another of the key factors behind South Africa’s water scarcity, as the residents of Hammanskraal in Pretoria discovered when their drinking water was contaminated with human waste for months in 2018.

The report by Donnenfeld, Crookes, and Hedden proposes a range of solutions that include protecting and replenishing water resources, and using groundwater that’s typically found between saturated soil and rock — which, according to the report, is an “underutilised resource” in the country.

“Close to 85% of the country’s groundwater aquifers are under-allocated, and that there could be as much as 4.8 km3 worth of exploitable groundwater in South Africa,” continues the report.

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While the country explores solutions that will hopefully offer longer-lasting relief from possible water shortages, a very familiar story is playing out right now in Kannaland.

The Western Cape municipality ran out of the water in the beginning of 2019 due to a drought that’s left Nel’s Dam — which supplies water to the municipality —  at 11%, and turned to the Gift of the Givers for help. Gift of the Givers is a South African disaster relief non-governmental organisation that works around Africa and other conflict areas around the world. 

In his letter to the organisation, municipal manager Reynold Stevens, said: “We are currently facing tremendous challenges regarding the provision of drinking water due to the drought and extreme dry weather conditions.”

It’s a challenge that many municipalities around the country are bracing themselves for as temperatures rise.