In January 2018, when the newspapers carried the frightful news that Cape Town would completely run out of Municipal water, I was left stunned. Yes, the climate change and water crisis were buzzing like bees over our morning chai, but like every respectful citizen, we were religiously squatting them away with our rolled newspapers. However, the threat was too real now. The infestation was genuine, and denial could no longer save us.
In a very Hollywood fashion, a ‘Day Zero‘ was declared when the water supply was supposed to be officially turned off, and citizens would have to get rationed water from public taps. It was a very big deal, and you couldn’t possibly imagine how difficult and lifestyle altering something like this could be.
But like any significantly important media story, this, too, died down in a couple of days, or I must have stopped reading the papers as the imminent threat in Cape Town was pushed to the back of my memory.
Cut to 2019, when the buzzing around my chai has become a lot louder and thwarting the bees away much more difficult; I am suddenly struck by a concerning though from last year: “What happened to Cape Town’s water crisis?” And of course, like the millennial I am, I googled exactly that—“What happened to Cape Town’s water crisis?”
You will not believe what happened. My super skeptic belief that “climate change is irreversible and only a privileged few would survive by shifting their livelihood to Mars” was shaken to the core. Let me begin by saluting the people of Cape Town. What an aggressive fight they put up and actually succeeded in pushing back “Day Zero” indefinitely.
What worked as a remarkable mechanism for the people was not just the efficient data collection but the laying-out of the data with streamlined outreach to the citizens who most needed to see it.
The PR campaigns were extraordinary. The catchphrase, “If it’s yellow, let it mellow” was used in restaurants and bars to save water while flushing. The dirty shirt challenge was introduced to see who could go the most days without washing their work shirt!
A freakishly efficient drought-awareness campaign was launched by the municipality that published weekly updates on regional dam levels and water consumption, and electronic boards were used on freeways to notify drivers of how many days of water supply Cape Town had left. The Hollywood-like suspense grew more as the climax of Day Zero came closer; the city launched a city-wide water map to show water consumption on a household level, allowing people to compare their consumption to their neighbors and the rest of the city.
Today, the threat to Cape Town is still in the periphery, but the aggressive fight to survive still keeps the conservation and preservation tactics going.
So what does this tell us?
Humans could actually avert a crisis if they tried to. Governments could take action if they wanted to. All capitalist interventions that come in between comprehensive solutions and the people’s efforts can be negotiated with.
The water crisis is simply worsening, and it is not too long before cities like Melbourne, Beijing, Bangalore, London, Tokyo, Mexico City and Barcelona—all face their own Day Zero.
The question still remains, are we ready for such aggressive reform? Since our Day Zero countdown has already begun.