Water shortage not a leveller between the social classes in Cape Town — Margaret Evans

Cape Town South Africa is the first major city in the modern world to face the very real threat of running out of water three years of unprecedented drought have left the city's reservoirs less than a quarter full they zero when the reserves are so low the city literally turns off the taps was originally pegged for April 16th that's now been pushed by about three and a half weeks but severe water restrictions are profoundly affecting the lives of many of the city's residents ever wonder what it would be like to get by with just 50 litres of water a day the CBC's Margaret Evans has just returned from a reporting trip to Cape Town she spoke to us from London England Margaret when people talk about 50 litres per day per person what does that actually mean in the way that people live well you know the best way to describe it Allison is when you talk about how long it takes to take a shower some of the local pop stars in Cape Town have come up with a two-minute shower song so you can turn that on to keep track of the time because they want you to keep your shower to less than that but if you were to take a five minute shower that would use your entire water allowance for the day so in day-to-day life people aren't turning on the tops they're trying not to wash their hands is that true across Cape Town because that's not a city that's homogenous shall I say no of course not and most of the people living out in the townships the informal settlements that have still exists there you know more than 20 years after the end of apartheid people already live on less than 50 litres of water a day they line up for their water they say never mind day zero there's never really been a day one for us we're still waiting to have taps in our homes and there is no water-based sanitation so it can be kind of schizophrenic because you know and when you're in the wealthier suburbs you've got you know signs of people kind of everywhere saying no you know flush only once a day they have all those signs about if it's yellow let it Mellow if it's brown flush it down that you know Canadians would think of is from cottage country and then they you know they can also feel a little bit absurd you know because you know having greasy hair can become a status symbol it means you're you're conserving in in restaurants fancy restaurants they say they're doing their bit by asking people to keep their cutlery through several courses so there are all sorts of levels but people are taking it very seriously you see people walk what you know lining up at these Springs for supplementary water that's free fresh water so they don't have to go over there they're fifty liter a day limit and people are saying that you know we're doing sponge bathing we're only showering twice a week and they are trying to adhere to these Flushing rules at the same time you know more than half of the people are not adhering to those recommendations and so the city's starting to get tough on people who are wasting water they're handing out fines they're increasing taxes and of course they do have the power to reduce water pressure in some parts of the city and they've even named and shamed some neighborhoods saying these people are not doing their bit so if you've got on the one hand people in the informal settlements in the townships who for the most part their use of water hasn't changed because they never did have that much water and then you've got that sort of divide between those who are trying to conserve those who are not paying much attention how divisive actually is this it it is really reinforcing those divisions you know I met a man at the spring who who he said he actually used the word I'm being victimized because I make more money and I live in a bigger house and the people in the settlements they're just allowed to to use their their pumps all day long I mean many people in the informal settlements don't have to pay for the water and again as we said it's communal but there's a lot of misinformation out there you know if you look at the overall water consumption in Cape Town only four percent of water usage comes from the settlements and the chips the rest of it is all coming from those wealthy mainly white suburbs where people are still watering their lawns and filling their swimming pools I mean not everybody some people are putting salt water in their swimming pools but you know it's interesting because people describe this as a leveler and and and it's not really a leveler because the people with money can pay to have a borehole dug in their back garden that costs thousands of dollars they can buy water they could pay to have it shipped in they could even pay people to stand in line and so there's resentment going both ways you know you've seen the government the police targeting people in the townships because they have informal car washes they're using municipal water and those people say you know it's keeping us off the street and we're making a living we don't have a job so it becomes a real social issue here you know people say it should be uniting the city but it's also dividing the city again what's your assessment of the impact more broadly in South Africa how important is this for the new Ramapo so government it's it's very important and we were lucky enough to catch him out on one of his morning walks and put the question to him about you know what does it mean for a city like Cape Town which is really kind of an ambassador to the rest of the world we all know what Table Mountain looks like how meaningful is it that this this city is running out of water he called it a national disaster that was one of his first acts as the new president to dub it a disaster which means there can be more federal or national government spending to help the city out but he was also very keen to deliver the message he said this is not a crisis about the people in the wealthy northern suburbs this is a crisis about South Africa's poor because so many people across the country don't actually have access to water and you know one of the interesting subjects that came up which was a little bit convoluted perhaps but you know people in Cape Town and the informal settlements have been campaigning for a long time now just to have water based sanitation and toilets but now when you're talking about conservation and what the future of Capetown might look like people are talking about dry sanitation and that becomes a political football as well because the poor people in the townships say well why would we have to go to dry sanitation won't the middle and upper-class people have to go that way too so in terms of the big picture it's it's it's it's potentially hugely divisive divisive but it's also not just Cape Town it's it's all across the country it's the rural urban divide and and and the the the inequities that exist in the society still today and RAM opposes seems to be delivering the same the right message whether he'll actually be able to change anything of course as the million dollar question Margaret thank you so much for this and for your work on the road in South Africa – well it's a pleasure Alison thank you very much

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