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Tackling Cape Town's water crisis

Jan 17 2018 06:02
Mandi Smallhorne

"I WOULD like to declare 'A Citizen Led State of Emergency' immediately in Cape Town," begins the FB post, followed by a string of suggestions. Great to see active citizenry, but it did trigger some questions.

The first suggestion is: "Immediately move all the unemployed people who are receiving grants back to their homelands. Keep paying them grants. Give them access to electricity and the internet, an easy thing to do with renewable energy and batteries and satellite communications. Want to know where they come from? See where they go on their summer holidays. They can still run their washing machines and they can connect to the internet and wi-fi and watch TV. And many of them have small holdings with rain tanks and food gardens. A tranquil lifestyle!"

"Homelands", in this new South Africa, huh? "They can still run their washing machines" - when last did you visit an informal settlement? “Tranquil lifestyle” - so why did they leave in the first place?

But it’s impractical. The people in informal settlements (where the bulk of the 'unemployed' probably live) use less than 5% of the water in Cape Town. Sending thousands of them 'back' (how, on the train lines?), to wherever you deem their 'homelands' to be, would only make the teensiest dent in water use.

Seek out suburban water wasters

The suburbs are where apparently more than 65% of Cape Town’s water is used – and where the worst non-compliance with water restrictions occurs. Would it not be more practical to scour the suburbs for people who have migrated here from, oh, I dunno, Germany, the UK and places beyond the Grape Curtain like Pretoria, and pop them on trains and planes back to their 'homelands'? (Insert laugh emoji here…)

Then "Any retirees [...] should also be asked to move to their holiday houses and also asked to take in their friends [...] Anyone with a holiday home anywhere in South Africa in a water-rich zone, should be asked to open their houses at a nominal fee [to Capetonians]." (‘Ask’, you’ll notice, not ‘tell’ – nice and polite.)

Where are these holiday houses? Gauteng’s the only sort-of water-rich summer-rainfall province (dams, which must keep us going till next October, are now 96% full, according to agri-economist Wandile Sihlobo's useful dam map). Maybe a teeny-weeny number of Kapenaars have holiday homes in a game reserve here.

But other summer-rainfall provinces, like Limpopo, ain’t looking so good, at 66%. Meanwhile, the coastal holiday meccas are problematic: KZN (summer rainfall) at 48%, the Eastern Cape (mix of summer and winter) 60%.

But then probably only a very tiny crust of Western Cape residents can afford holiday homes elsewhere, so, a) it might not break the water-bank for Plett to take them in, and b) if these holiday home owners are among the bad water wasters, it might actually make a tiny difference to consumption?

"Any school children who are in hostels should immediately be relocated to other schools in South Africa outside the water-scarce zone." I wonder how many there are all-in. There are, apparently, 92 boarding schools in the Cape, compared to 77 in Gauteng, the so-called water-rich province.

Let's say we're talking about - oh, a minimal number, say 100 to 150 pupils per school. That's over 10 000 pupils to be taken in, bed and board and tuition to be provided almost immediately, by schools elsewhere. Is that doable?

And golly, who foots the bill for all these extraordinary movements of people around the country - the Western Cape government?

Then there’s this: "All vegan food to immediately be tax free. Meat to have a 100% duty put on it. All Western Cape livestock to be moved to other provinces."

But apparently meat production (according to this Provincial Profile) is only 10% of the province's agricultural production (or land use). Forty-one percent of production, and 46% of hectares, goes to horticulture - the production of fruit, veggies and flowers. (Figures are from 2014, but I’m sure the ratio remains similar – happy to be corrected.)

Horticultural crops are commonly grown using irrigation (unlike grain and cattle, sheep and goats, which are usually rain-fed). Fruit is a big consumer of irrigated water - stone fruit, pome fruit, citrus and grapes. Grapes consume about half the irrigated water in the province, apparently! So if you want to make a real difference, tell the wine farmers to stop irrigating, neh?

By the way, most vegan food is already tax-free. Veggies and fruit aren't subject to VAT. Neither are rice, samp, dried beans and lentils. Unless you mean faux meats, like textured vegetable protein, processed from soy beans or wheat gluten?

There are other suggestions about limiting hotel occupancy and stopping cruise ships, removing tax from water infrastructure and some desalination stuff.

But not one of the suggestions includes the idea of going after the people who are still not complying with water restrictions - according to the Cape Town dashboard, 44%.

Let me say that again: 44% of Capetonians, near as dammit half of the big city that uses so much of the province’s water, 1.64 million people! Isn’t it time for a serious switch to no-more-Mr-Nice-Guy?

One final thought: what on earth IS a 'Citizen-Led State of Emergency'? States of emergency are all about using police and military to enforce measures aimed at restoring law and order. How do citizens enforce anything, I wonder? 

  • Mandi Smallhorne is a versatile journalist and editor. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter.
 


mandi smallhorne  |  cape town  |  drought  |  water crisis  |  opinion
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