South Africans living in the Eastern Cape are counting down to ‘day zero’ when the taps in the Nelson Mandela Bay area will dry up. Experts say climate change-induced drought has left reservoirs nearly empty, while municipal mismanagement is forcing city officials to scramble to plug more than 3,000 leaky water pipes.
Sixty-eight-year-old Virginia Kima, a grandmother of five, lives in KwaNobuhle, an impoverished township in an area named after South Africa‘s greatest hero and first black president, Nelson Mandela Bay.
But life is tough these days, she says.
“Sometimes we go for about two or three days without water,” she said. “When there is no water, we go and get water elsewhere.”
Kima told VOA that when the taps run dry, she walks 25 minutes to a school to refill bottles.
The Bay Area suffers from a severe water shortage. Authorities said the dam’s regional water storage is at around 11% capacity and could be on the verge of getting worse.
At the current rate of use, two large reservoirs could run out completely in a matter of days. If this happened, 40% of the city of Gqeberha, with a population of around one million, would be affected.
Luvuyo Bangazi, spokesperson for the government’s shortage committee, told VOA that authorities were rushing to prevent “day zero”, when they ran out of water.
“As for the exact day zero date, you know we really can’t have such a date in the calendar because there are a lot of moving parts,” he said. “We are doing everything in our power to prevent the taps from running dry.”
Bangazi said there were several reasons for the low water levels – both natural and man-made.
“We haven’t had good rains in over seven years and we’ve had a big increase in water usage across all sectors, be it residential, commercial or otherwise,” he said. “So compounding this with obviously struggling infrastructure that is causing serious water leaks…nearly 25-30% of our water [is] be lost due to water leaks caused by failing infrastructure.
More than 3,000 leaks have been reported to city officials, who say crews are scrambling to fix them.
Bangazi said the community also needed to reduce its water consumption, which he said is 60 million liters more per day than it should be for the size of the population.
Meanwhile, authorities are setting up communal water points and aid workers are drilling boreholes for water wells.
Mary Galvin, associate professor of development studies at the University of Johannesburg, said water scarcity shows the urgent need to tackle climate change.
“Reaching day zero is an example, or is an expression, of a climate crisis that is here to stay – with higher temperatures, greater intensity of weather events including drought and flooding. So this is another manifestation that we see across the country, across Africa and across the world.
Galvin noted that there is also a problem of water inequality in South Africa.
While Nelson Mandela Bay’s wealthier residents can dig their own boreholes and buy storage tanks, the poor here, like Grandma Kima, have to walk to find water.
The water shortage in Nelson Mandela Bay comes just years after the major South African tourist city of Cape Town narrowly avoided its own zero day.