First-hand reflections on Day Zero

Photo of Anna Kroeger in Cape Town

Anna Kroeger is witnessing preparations for Day Zero first-hand as a UI student studying abroad in Cape Town, South Africa. Kroeger, a student in the Tippie College of Business, is spending the Spring 2018 semester at the University of Cape Town through IES Abroad.

What exactly is Day Zero?

A three-year drought has contributed to dangerously low water levels in Cape Town, leading to speculation that the city could run out of water. Day Zero signifies the date on which the water taps could be turned off if the dams providing the water supply register at acute levels. Leading up to Day Zero, Cape Town residents have been asked to drastically reduce their water usage. The city hopes that, if every citizen restricts their water use in this way, Day Zero can be pushed back long enough until it rains enough to fill the dams—in hopes of preserving the water supply until the beginning of the rainy season in May. It was recently announced that Day Zero was unlikely to occur in 2018, but water levels are still critically low and heavy water restrictions are still in place.

How are residents responding?

Images of Day Zero posters

Images of posters designed to encourage water conservation (provided by Anna Kroeger)

Essentially, there is a big marketing campaign to educate people about the water crisis. People are encouraged to save water in whatever way they can. At nearly every sink, public shower, and toilet stall there are posters intended to educate the public about reducing their water usage.

People have been encouraged to re-use water from household tasks to flush toilets. This is called “gray water.” Gray water might be the water saved from washing dishes or taking a shower. Public places are limiting access points to water. For example, a shopping mall might only make one sink with water access available. Hand sanitizer is widely available as an alternative to washing your hands with soap and water.

Have residents complied with requests to reduce their water usage?

I’ve noticed that people here hold each other to a high standard regarding water usage. For example, if someone is washing their hands for a long time, other people nearby would likely say something about the excessive use of water. Also, people share water-saving tips such as showering less often by supplementing with sponge baths and putting a brick or a rock in toilet tanks to reduce the amount of water needed to fill the tank.

How has your experience in Cape Town been impacted by Day Zero?

In regards to the water shortage, it has been on our minds constantly. Most of the issue was caused by poor rainfall in recent years. We are heavily restricting our water usage to about 20 gallons a day (including showers, cleaning, and laundry) per person. It has been a very good learning experience for me so far, and one I did not expect to get out of this semester. It's made me think a lot more intentionally about my personal sustainability and energy use as a global citizen. There are many Cape Town residents who have lived without access to water in their homes for decades, and I am still privileged enough to use as much as I’d like. As a visitor in this city, it is vital that I am intentional about my water consumption.

Will you continue your reduction in water consumption when you return to the U.S.?

Yes! We can all save water. Even though we aren’t in a water crisis in most of the U.S., I believe we all need to conserve and use water responsibly.

How can people learn more about Day Zero?

The easiest way is simply to do a search for Day Zero on Google. There are tons of articles and videos from a variety of news sources.

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