South Africa's Western Cape Province has been experiencing a drought for the last three years. The extreme conditions have pushed Cape Town to a crisis point. Africa News reports that the city has instituted level 6B water restrictions. This means every person is rationed to a little over 13 gallons per day.
It was initially reported that the city would be completely out of water by April 1st, but some light rain extended the estimated deadline to June 4th. It wasn't nearly enough to refill the city's dams, however.
The water rationing is being enforced with heavy fines, so people are sharing tips on how to conserve and reuse water for things like washing clothes and flushing toilets. But Cape Town is a city with huge wealth disparities largely defined along race, as The Atlantic explains.
Cape Town was established by white colonialists, and lived under the rule of apartheid. Many of the black citizens of the city live in the suburban areas with long commutes to the city's center and its wealth, and they have long lived with water restrictions. What is considered suburban there is also very different from American perceptions of the word—many live in shacks and unregulated settlements.
Cape Town has become an example of what happens when climate change meets political corruption and income disparity. One scientist explained that a three year drought in this area basically has a likelihood of happening every 628 years, but officials have been warned that a potential drought was facing the city as early as 1990. Yet, little development was put into storing or recovering potable water. The dams were filled by the winter rainfall that has since completely dropped off.
The argument often centers around who will pay for and host things like desalination plants, with rich residents at the town's center arguing they'll be an eyesore that drives away tourism. Politicians cancelled projects that would have offered Cape Town a solution in the present moment, because they were deemed too expensive at the time.
So, what are officials doing now? They've introduced a character to explain to children how to delay "Day Zero," the frightening term for June 4th. On that theme, the mascot is also pretty terrifying. His name is Splash and he looks like a psychotic marshmallow:
A moment of unintentional hilarity in a dire situation. If Cape Town does reach Day Zero, they will be the first city to ever completely run out of water, though Barcelona was near to it about a decade ago and Sao Paulo is also close. It's a moment where no one is sure what will happen, and the outcome may lay the pattern for how governments everywhere deals with huge shifts caused by our changing climate. And that's really scary.