'Day Zero' for dry taps in South Africa's Cape Town may not occur in 2018, says official

The Newlands swimming pool sits empty in Cape Town, South Africa, on Feb 9, 2018.
The Newlands swimming pool sits empty in Cape Town, South Africa, on Feb 9, 2018.PHOTO: REUTERS

CAPE TOWN (AFP) - Cape Town will not be forced to shut off normal water supplies in 2018 in response to a three-year-long drought as previously feared, the region's governing party has said.

Mr Mmusi Maimane, who leads the Democratic Alliance which controls both the Cape Town city council and the wider Western Cape province, said that a 60 per cent reduction in consumption averted the shut-off.

"Provided we continue consuming water at current levels, and we receive decent winter rainfall this year, 'Day Zero' will not occur in 2018. This means the taps will stay open in 2018," he said in a statement.

It was previously forecast that "Day Zero" - when normal water supply would be disconnected and people would have to queue at 200 standpipes for daily rations of 25 litres - would be as soon as July 9.

"Consumption now sits at between 510 and 520 million litres per day - down from almost 1.2 billion litres in February 2015," said Mr Maimane.

"This 60 per cent reduction in consumption is an incredible achievement, and outperforms many other cities across the world which faced severe droughts."

Cape Town, which attracts millions of tourists every year, has enforced strict waste controls including prosecuting homeowners who use significantly more than the current 50-litre daily limit.

The city has published a name-and-shame list of the worst water offenders in Cape Town, and it says it is issuing fines for the heaviest water users.

But officials have been criticised for failing to implement usage restrictions sooner, and accused of ignoring warnings by experts in the years before the drought.

Strong summer rains saw much of southern Africa recover from a drought induced by the El Nino weather phenomenon.

But Mediterranean-like Cape Town receives most of its rain in the southern hemisphere's winter - and scientists warn there is no guarantee of a good rainy season.

"While it is now unlikely to occur in 2018, Day Zero is still a very real possibility during the 2019 summer months if we do not have significant rainfall this winter," said Mr Maimane.

"I want to reiterate, and cannot stress enough, that we need to keep at current consumptions levels until at least after the winter rainfall."