The Day Zero That Didn’t Come
But did touch off a lot of concerns:
The prediction had been that after years of an intense drought, Cape Town’s dams would be so depleted and local reservoirs so bone-dry that one day in the autumn of 2018—between March and May in the Southern Hemisphere—the city would cut off the water flowing to taps. That date, the “Day Zero” in question, captured the attention of Western press. Photographs of the brown, cracked mud flats where drinking water once flowed abounded. Papers wrote breathlessly about the doomsday scenario of mobilizing military assets to secure water distribution points, fearing the possibility of violent clashes over resources.
Day Zero didn’t happen—and as Wolski told me, it may have never been in the cards. But, over the course of a year, the idea really did deeply change the city all the same. Water scarcity, and the potential for a catastrophe, spurred upheaval and anxiety. During that time, a local government pushed a water-conservation agenda more ambitious than just about anything the world had seen. Cape Town faced political fallout and experienced widespread protests. Divisions between the haves and the have-nots in one of the most unequal cities on Earth became the center of discourse. The racial wounds of a post-apartheid country opened once more.
In its march to slash water consumption drastically, this metropolis of 4 million people also became a harbinger of how water will constrain global cities in the future, and how climate change will bring turmoil and a new slate of challenges to places where class and racial divides are deep. Day Zero is still hypothetical, but Cape Town’s reality will soon impact many global cities, where water will become a constant concern, and democracy will become contingent upon the taps.
Israel offered to help with desalination technology. It’s technology that cannot come fast enough.