Residents of Cape Town, one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations, could be forced to queue for emergency water by April as the city battles its worst drought for a century.
Within months, South Africa’s oldest city, nicknamed the ‘Mother City’, is at risk of becoming the world’s largest metropolis to run out of water.
Strict water restrictions are already in force, limiting the maximum use per person to 50 litres per day.
The measure has been brought in to delay what has become known as ‘Day Zero’ – 12 April, the date the water supply will be shut down and taps will run dry.
It had been 22 April, but it has been brought forward as water levels at dams in the region continue to drop week after week, with the overall amount of usable water now falling to 17.2%.
When levels drop to 13.5%, the city of four million people will be forced to queue for daily rations of 25 litres from 200 water collection points – not even enough for a two-minute shower.
The police and army are on standby to be deployed to prevent any unrest in the queues.
The city’s mayor, Patricia de Lille, said warnings to use water sparingly have fallen on deaf ears.
“We have reached a point of no return,” she said.
“Despite our urging for months, 60% of Capetonians are callously using more than 87 litres per day.
“It is quite unbelievable that a majority of people do not seem to care and are sending all of us headlong towards Day Zero.”
City councillors are set to vote on the introduction of a punitive tariff, which will charge households using more than 6,000 litres per month higher water rates.
Trial water collection sites have already been set up, and in a further possible sign of things to come, people have been lining up with jerry cans at AB-Inbev’s Newlands brewery to get up to 25 litres of free water from a mountain stream on its property.
Hotels have been limiting showers to two minutes and using water used for cleaning dishes and clothes to water gardens.
A typical shower uses 15 litres per minute while a standard toilet consumes up to 15 litres per flush, according to WaterWise, a South African water usage awareness campaign.
Around two million tourists flock to Cape Town every year to bathe on its sandy white beaches, explore its natural landmarks like Table Mountain or to drink wine at the dozens of nearby vineyards.
Farrel Cohen, manager of the Metropolitan Golf Club in Mouille, said he was “too afraid to even think about” what Day Zero would mean for Cape Town.
“Nobody knows what to expect. People are running to supermarkets to buy water.”