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Saving like a Local: Takeaways from Cape Town’s Water Shortage

333/Cape Town Images

Just how bad is the drought in Cape Town, South Africa

For months, all eyes have been on Cape Town in South Africa as the residents and authorities battle a drastic water shortage. The city has pushed hard to encourage Capetonians to adapt and stick to the current Level 6B restrictions – and with a decrease in agricultural-water usage, things are finally looking more positive. But how did it get to this stage? And what can travel businesses in other drought-prone areas learn from Cape Town’s situation?

333/Severe Drought In Cape Town

Major factors contributing to the drought situation

Several factors have contributed to the Cape’s water emergency, including three winters of unforeseen droughts (the type expected once every 300 years); mismanaged water systems; population growth; as well as a lack of urgency in developing new sources of water, such as desalination plants.

With water being the hot topic of conversation in Cape Town, some little-considered facts have come to the fore. For example, toilets are flushed with drinking water, which seems even more grossly wasteful when a single flush uses around 12 litres of water.

Capetonians are now encouraged to flush with ‘grey’ or used water, and only when required. Grey-water systems, like fitting tanks for harvesting rainwater and drilling boreholes, are great options.

How is the drought affecting tourism in Cape Town & the Western Cape?

Tourism is a significant industry for the Western Cape: officials have stressed that Cape Town is ‘open for business’ and visitors will not be affected by the water shortage.

However, when possible, tourists should still try to ‘save like a local‘. To make this simpler for guests, hotels – such as the One&Only Cape Town –introduced hand sanitiser to use instead of water and have removed bath plugs.

The Radisson Blu Hotel & Residence, Cape Town, have installed timers in their showers to remind their guests of the water crisis. The taps at the Twelve Apostles Hotel have been fitted with aerators, which reduce the flow of water by between 60 and 80 percent.

Many hotels are also investing in off-grid water sources, like the One&Only’s onsite borehole. On a larger scale, the V&A Waterfront is constructing a private desalination plant to take most of the precinct off the municipal water supply system by next year.

333/Cape Town Drought 3

Major events and their impact on the drought

Meanwhile, popular events are aiming for zero impact: March’s Cape Town Cycle Tour, the world’s largest timed cycle race, will be purchasing their water from elsewhere in the country, pledging to take nothing from the municipal supply.

As a change in climate continues to cause unexpectedly extreme conditions across the globe, it’s imperative that we all start developing good habits that will have long-term effects.

Destinations must try using multiple sources of water, instead of relying on just one. Expensive desalination plants can be used alongside recycling wastewater, which, though it has a perceived ‘‘yuck factor’, has worked in places such as Windhoek, Orange County, California and Singapore.

Hotels in drought-prone areas should use grey-water systems and water-saving shower heads. They should also not feel it inappropriate to politely prompt guests to practise necessary conservation measures – for example, taking short, start-stop showers and avoiding baths 

Cape Town’s water shortage is a lesson for us all in not taking things for granted. As with so many things, you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.


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