“Day Zero” of Water: When Things Get Seriously Real

I rarely make a blog post that’s identical to a post on my Deep Green Book page on Facebook. But today I’m making an exception.

Severe water emergency — real life account: (Following is a current real-life account of water emergency: another community facing “Day Zero”. This post is from a member of the Journey To Zero-Waste group who gave us permission to share. She lives in rural South Africa but this same situation is being faced by communities around the world, from Texas to Australia and elsewhere.)

I would like to share a scary little story with you all. We have known for a long time now that our little town is about to run out of water. People blame the drought, but I am afraid this drought is here to stay. It’s never going to rain enough to fill up the dam and temperatures are reaching 36 to 38 degrees these days.

Our towns economy is based on education, so there are several big boarding schools and a university which has just opened for the 2019 academic year.

Day Zero as we call it is 2 days away. When the taps will dry and there will be no water. Already the one side of town has been without water for 3 days. The people there are very poor, with an unemployment rate of 70 percent. They cannot afford to fetch or buy water. Any minute a huge protest is going to erupt there resulting in violence and looting. 

It’s a giant scary mess. Our municipality is so dysfunctional that this has not been managing the problem. Our town is kind of in the middle of nowhere in a rural province of South Africa, so I am not sure how we are going to get water in.

Its really interesting to see how the town continues to wait til the last minute to start saving water. Still toilets are being flushed, baths are being taken, swimming pools filled. Sometimes I think the only way humanity will learn is the hard way. And s*** is about to get very real in this town.

Here is one comment from another group member in response:

“Honestly friend, I would start grabbing friends and knocking on doors now. Start with whoever runs the school, then go higher up, higher up and higher up. Take a journalist or editor of the local Newspaper with you. Then I would go to the native people or older generations and ask them what they do during the droughts and how they get through it. If thicket is growing I would say their roots run deep and that’s where the water is. Lastly, what is the history of the indigenous people there? Did they migrate often or did they usually stay in one place. The reason I ask is because where there are still indigenous practices runs ancient wisdom as to how they handled these situations and some things can be applicable to today.”

And to this I would add: Water scarcity (albeit caused by waste and mismanagement) is real, and likely coming to a place near each and every one of us if it hasn’t already. We all need to start taking responsibility for building our water-supply resiliency at the household and community level. Collect rainwater; also radically cut our need. People in the USA use an average of 100 gallons of water per person per day, mostly for lawns, plus showers and laundry. In the old days in this country, we used 10 gallons per person per day. Time to radically reduce! 

A key pointer, as mentioned by the commenter I quoted above, is “go to the native people or older generations and ask them what they do during the droughts and how they get through it.” This is a great tip in general: Find out how the old-timers got their daily needs met. Whether it’s water shortage or a power blackout or any other crisis, a great way to prepare is find out how people used to do things in the old days before electricity, running water, freely available long-distance transport, and other modern conveniences. It can actually be surprisingly simple to build resiliency into your household if you do a bit of research on “how the old-timers did it.”

There is really no need for shortages of water or anything else. Conservation and working with nature rather than against her is simple and free, and provides many personal benefits along with the planetary ones. That is why I’m so passionate about low-footprint living. (And why I’m so determined to get the word out to as many folks as will listen!)

Working together, helping one another, we can get through these crises of extreme weather, build resiliency at the household and community level, and bring common-sense back into the design of our human-built environment.

Update: The woman in South Africa posted an update:

Hey guys. So some of you asked for an update. Today was the 5th day of no water for 80 000 residents of the town. Compounded by the fact that our waste removal services have been on strike for 3 weeks now. So basically the town is thirsty and dirty.
Today saw people breaking into fire hydrants a cross the city and selling the water to affected people. Quite scary given that fires break out on the surrounding mountains almost daily.
Tomorrow a local South African aid group is sending in water from Durban and Cape Town.
The worst of it is that the municipality won’t give anyone a straight answer on what the problem is. We are told that plans are being made and that’s all. I am no engineer but their plans don’t sound feasible to me. Also they seem to change almost daily. There is always a new excuse. I think they are just trying to avoid some kind of social anarchy.
At least the national media has picked up on our story now.
For those who asked about Cape Town… How ironic is that Cape Town is now sending us water.
Here is an interesting question. Is denying your citizenship access to water because of incompetence human rights abuse.? In a democracy so focused on constitutional integrity, how did we come to this?
Thank you so much for all your insights. They were very interesting to read. Also quite amazed that you found our story shocking. I think sadly we have become so accostomed to our challenges that we have given up any hope of solving them.