Cape Town caught the world’s attention earlier this year with dramatic headlines that it could become the world’s first major city to run out of water, joining an ever-growing line-up of major cities, regions and nations facing comparable threats, including São Paulo, Mexico City, Barcelona, Bangalore, Nairobi, California; and Australia and large parts of the Middle East and North Africa.
A tough water-saving regime helped push back Day Zero for dry taps in Cape Town to 2019. But the crises around the world have surfaced deep patterns of disconnect in our relationships with water. At the same time, at a local scale, water has emerged as a lens through which to view the complex dynamics of politics, governance, privilege and agency in one the world’s most unequal societies.
The Khoikhoi pastoralists, thought to be the original inhabitants of what is now Cape Town, were drawn to the slopes of Table Mountain around 2,000 years ago for the freshwater springs and rivers that flow year round. They named the place Camissa, the “place of sweet waters.” The natural abundance of water also drew early Dutch settlers here in the 17th century to establish a supply station for ships crossing the seas for the Dutch East India Company.
Aqueducts, channels, an old sand filtration system, and other relics of an extensive colonial-era water infrastructure can still be found on the mountain. The growing modern city long ago outstripped these natural resources, however, and these local waters disappeared from everyday life. Rivers and streams were encased in concrete, recharge areas for underground groundwater stores were paved over, and distant catchment areas were tapped to feed the city. At the same time millions of liters of fresh water were channeled from the city out to sea every day in storm-water drains.
But the Cape Town water supply remains as dependent as ever on surface water collected in dams from rivers, and the ecological health of these rivers has long been neglected.
Read more at: Quartz Africa