(GIN) – Only days remain in Cape Town, South Africa, before a jewel of natural beauty and one of the wealthiest destinations in Africa becomes the first major city in the world to run out of water.
Rationing has already begun with some 200 collection points around the city. Security guards stand watch as anxious residents fill up plastic jugs.
Cape Town is in the middle of an unprecedented drought, with some researchers estimating the dry spell to be a once-in-a-millennium event.
After three years of far below normal rains, Cape Town’s main water source stands at about 27 percent, but the final 10 percent is considered unusable because of mud, weeds and debris at the bottom. Silt in the tap water makes it undrinkable, many complain.
Municipal water will continue to reach hospitals and large low-income developments, but sanitation and public health conditions could deteriorate further.
A stark wealth gap and social inequalities have only worsened the crisis with lawns and pools of the wealthy diverting water from poor neighborhoods with limited access to water.
Kirsty Carden with the Future Water Institute at the University of Cape Town pointed to the city’s leafy suburbs. People who have gardens and swimming pools, she said, are much more extravagant in the way that they use water. They’re used to the water just coming out of the taps. In the more affluent areas, people say ‘We’ll pay for it,’ she told the Associated Press.
For the quarter of Cape Town’s population living in unplanned settlements, water comes from communal taps rather than individual taps at home. Scolding fingers point at leaking taps and broken fixtures. “But the reality is that those one million people out of a population of four (million) only use 4.5 percent of the water,” Carden said.
Meanwhile, the region’s two major industries– tourism and agriculture, including the lucrative wine industry, are suffering. Analysts estimate between 30,000 and 70,000 seasonal workers could lose their jobs.
While extreme droughts are difficult to predict, researchers fault the city council for failing to adapt the local water supply to the demands of a growing metropolis.