Cape Town Crisis Worsens as Water Levels Continue to Drop

By on February 7, 2018

Cape Town’s water supply is running dangerously low. The tourist hub of South Africa may run dry as early as April, after a devastating drought which began three years ago now threatens industrial and agricultural output.

Reuters reports that much of the water that supplies South Africa comes from the Katse and Mohale dams in Lesotho.  

“According to South Africa’s Department of Water Affairs, dam levels in Lesotho are “very low” – the worst ranking – and are in their 10th percentile,” Reuters reports. “Meaning levels have been higher than 90 percent of the time at this point in the year,” Reuters online publication reports.”

Michael Sormrude, a professor of Biological Sciences at Quinnipiac said that a gross consumption of water has only exacerbated the situation.

“In the U.S., individuals utilize 100 gallons of water a day,” Sormrude said. “Over in South Africa, they were matching that same amount.”

Sormrude said that Cape Town authorities have been proactive in regulating water usage and ensuring that they take active measures in preserving as much water as they can.  

“A lot of time and resources now are being put towards desalination systems,” Sormrude said.  Desalination systems are facilities which recycle waste water back into viable drinking water.

Cape Town may not be the only area where serious problems may arise, Sormrude fears, but outlying areas possess a substantial risk of being affected as well.

“This is going to be an outreaching issue,” Sormrude said. “We may see some form of mass migration due to the lack of resources, where certain groups of people may need to move to other parts of the continent.”

When asked if the crisis in Cape Town had any correlation with other global environmental disasters, Professor Sormrude said it was something to definitely keep an eye on.

“We’re on the rise to see more global climate events occur,” Sormrude said. “These large climate catastrophes are bound to shoot up. As much as Cape Town took precautions, nobody knew it would be a three-year drought.”

Other climate disasters Professor Sormrude discussed were the drought in California, where many residents are dealing with forest fires, and the recent temperature swings in Australia.

“Look at Australia, extreme temperature swings have impacted different animal species and people there. Certain bats have been dying due to the extreme heat,” Sormrude said.

Kaitlyn Flanagan, a freshman double majoring in history and secondary education thinks the water crisis in Cape Town is something we definitely need to talk about.

“It should be a more global issue. We need to talk about this, especially because we’re so privileged here at Quinnipiac. They think someone else will just take care of it,” Flanagan said.

James Oliver, a sophomore studying English isn’t so sure that the Cape Town crisis is related to other global environmental occurrences.

“Look at California, in some years they have a lot of wildfires while in others, there might not be as many,” Oliver said. “It doesn’t surprise me much though… I don’t believe their government took enough precautions and even now after these initiatives have been taken, its too late. All they’re doing is delaying the inevitable.”

Sophomore Emily Taft, a Health Science major says the Cape Town crisis is something to take seriously.

“It is something to worry about. I believe most people would care about this,” Taft said. “It makes me upset that other people have to deal with that.”

When asked if she worried about a water crisis happening here, Taft replied, “I honestly think anything could happen.”

For the time being, Professor Sormrude says we’ll have to wait and see what happens. He believes South African authorities will continue to hedge their bets on desalination systems until the droughts recede.

“Right now, it’s kind of a costly bet,” Sormrude said. “Is it going to work?  Is it not going to work? They’ve mobilized the police and deputized individuals in order to lock down certain water facilities around the city.”

When asked how average American citizens can prepare for a crisis like Cape Town’s here, Sormrude drew a distinct parallel to American history.

“Think of the 1930s with the dust bowl, it was massive epidemic,” Sormrude said.  “There was a mass migration to the west or east coast from middle America, so they could separate themselves from those conditions.”

“It’s definitely something we’ll have to face in the future,” Sormrude continued.  “So the question going forward is: How do we prepare for that?”  

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