Comment Writer Rhi Storer criticises charitable organisations in light of the latest scandal surrounding St MungosWritten by Rhi Storer on 17th March 2018
Cape Town’s Climate Catastrophe
Comment Writer Aimee Cashmore asserts that Cape Town's water crisis is a major warning sign of global climate change
Cape Town’s current water crisis should serve as a potent reminder to the rest of the world that climate change is a very present threat and that governments should start treating it as a major issue.
Cape Town is on the verge of becoming the world’s first major city to run out of water. The city’s water crisis derives from the worst drought in more than a century. Recurring drought is one of the biggest dangers of climate change due to a rise in temperature leading to the reduction of rainfall and increased evaporation. Africa is a continent particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change and the three-year drought has left the city’s main reservoir almost totally depleted.
“The situation in Cape Town is particularly striking as the city has a reputation for its environmental practices
‘Day-Zero’, estimated to be 11th May, is the name for when officials will turn the city’s water supplies off. Water will still be supplied to hospitals, clinics and other ‘essential’ services, but this will leave residents to line up at one of 200 points across the city to collect a water ration of 25 litres per day, per person. To put that into perspective: flushing the toilet five times uses 25 litres of water. The government has warned that it will be the biggest crisis a major city has faced since World War II or 9/11 and climate scientists fear the situation is only a glimpse of what is to come.
While climate change is undoubtedly a factor in Cape Town’s water crisis, political mismanagement has also played a role. This stems from the fact that climate change is often pushed to the bottom of the political agenda and is not widely regarded as a national security issue, until it’s too late. This means that when chaos strikes in regions prone to the disastrous effects of climate change, governments are often unprepared to handle such a crisis. The situation in Cape Town is particularly striking as the city has a reputation for its environmental practices, particularly its water management, even winning an international award for water conservation at the Paris climate talks in 2015.
“It shows how a lack of proper public planning can result in disaster and demonstrates how climate change can expose political passivity
However, the national government led by the African National Congress, failed to implement early policies to limit the city’s water use. Experts say that the agricultural sector accounts for the biggest use of water in most cities, including Cape Town. As the drought started to take its toll during 2015-2016 the government failed to take steps to restrict water supplies to farmers, exacerbating the problem. Additionally, political leaders failed to create a strong contingency plan instead of implementing a broader strategy across society. They focused all of their efforts on conserving water. While this is obviously a fundamental way to tackle the crisis, Francesco Femia (President of the centre for Climate and Security) warns that governments need to ‘start thinking about climate change in a much broader way and dealing with it much more holistically.’
The situation in Cape Town offers key lessons for the rest of the world: it shows how a lack of proper public planning can result in disaster and demonstrates how climate change can expose political passivity. The dangers of climate change should not just be taken into consideration by those countries which are most affected but by the global community as a whole. Particularly by the United States, which is now the only country in the world not part of the Paris Agreement on climate change mitigation.
If governments don’t take this global issue seriously and develop robust strategies to limit the impact of climate change, it will be too late to do anything.