It’s been a year since Cape Town saved itself from “Day Zero” — the moment the South African city was widely expected to be the first in the world to run out of water — after the city halved its daily water consumption with drastic rationing.
Now experts have warned that a water crisis could happen here too — yes, in Gareth Southgate’s England! — within the next 25 years.
And it’s down to something called the “jaws of death.”
The terrifying term is defined by the Guardian as the point where water demand from a rising population meets a falling supply provoked by climate change.
It was used by Sir James Bevan — the chief executive at a UK public body called the Environment Agency — to argue that the only way to battle such an “existential threat” is to slash water use by a third across the country.
“We need water wastage to be as socially unacceptable as blowing smoke in the face of a baby or throwing your plastic bags into the sea,” Bevan told the Guardian before a speech in London on Tuesday.
The fact is that we won’t have long term water security unless all of us change our behaviour. We all need to use less water and use it more efficiently. #WaterwiseConference2019pic.twitter.com/BEVEKOz352— James Bevan (@JamesBevanEA) March 19, 2019
The United Nations has predicted that the UK’s population will grow from 67 million to 75 million by 2050. Meanwhile, summers will get hotter and drier as climate change worsens all over the world — with water in Britain likely to be reduced by 10% to 15%, up to 80% in some rivers in the worst heat, Bevan said in his speech.
That’s why Bevan has demanded that we must cut the average person’s water use from 140 litres a day to 100 litres over the next 20 years. To put that into context, Cape Town restricted people to just 50 litres per person per day in March 2018, while the average US citizen uses a whopping 375 litres every day — the equivalent of nearly five bathtubs.
The best ways to cut down personal water use is with more efficient toilets and showers; reusing bathwater; spending less time in the shower; and watching your leakage — a third of all water is already lost to waste in the UK.
Even just turning off the tap while brushing your teeth could prevent losing 24 litres a day.
Our Chief Executive Sir James Bevan spoke at #Waterwiseconference2019 about the need for action to reduce water use and wastage to make sure we have enough water in the future. Here’s his speech ‘Escaping the jaws of death: ensuring enough water in 2050’ https://t.co/p6EfvAayIlpic.twitter.com/viMLFWJgug— Environment Agency (@EnvAgency) March 19, 2019
Globally, there are 2 billion people already without clean drinking water. But by 2050, demand for fresh water is expected to grow by more than 40%, with around a quarter of the world’s population living in places where water resources are endangered, according to the United Nations.
And in Cape Town, the feared consequences for Day Zero already existed in communities trapped in poverty. Long before the crisis made the global news agenda, there were already a million people with limited water available for drinking, showering, cooking, and cleaning.
For England to avoid a similar reality, Bevan put forward several other solutions too: namely, building more desalination plants — to convert seawater into drinking water — and a new mega-reservoir. Although he conceded the latter would be deemed “controversial” since local opposition is “fierce”, he argued that it was worth the investment.
“I confess I stuck ‘the jaws of death’ in the title of this speech to get your attention,” Bevan said at the end of the speech. “I hope it worked. On one level it’s just a dumb name for a graph where two lines cross. But on another, it’s real.”
“There’s a quote from Sylvia Earle, the distinguished marine biologist, which sums up in 12 words everything that’s at stake here,” he concluded. “It goes like this: ‘No water, no life. No blue, no green. No ocean, no us.’ Let us resolve not to go there.”