In South African township of Kwanobuhle, a 49-year-old resident Morris Malambile loads his wheelbarrow full of empty plastic containers and pushes it from his home to the nearest running tap. The bumpy road makes balancing containers filled with 70 liters of water on his return a pain.
Thousands of residents in Kwanobuhle rely on a single communal tap to supply their households with potable water after taps ran dry in some parts of the town.
And the township is just one of many in Gqeberha city’s Nelson Mandela Bay area that rely on a system of four dams that have been steadily drying up for months. There hasn’t been enough heavy rain to replenish them.
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A week ago, one dam was decommissioned as levels dropped too low to extract water. Another is just days away from emptying out.
The residents of the city are counting down to the day all taps run dry. That’s in around two weeks, unless authorities seriously speed up their response.
The Eastern Cape region of South Africa suffered a severe drought between 2015 and 2020, which devastated the local economy, particularly agricultural sector.
The severe water shortage in South Africa is a combination of poor management and warping weather patterns caused by human-made climate change.
Another reason behind water crisis could be thousands of leaks throughout the water system. The water does get piped out of the dams but never actually make it into homes. Poor maintenance has only worsened the situation.
Malambile, who lives with his sister and her four children, is left with no other option and has to walk his wheelbarrow through the township every single day for the past three months. Without this daily ritual, he and his family would have no drinking water at all.
“People who don’t live here have no idea what it’s like to wake up in the morning, and the first thing on your mind is water,” Malambile said. His family has enough containers to hold 150 liters of water.
Counting down to Day Zero
The prospects of meaningful rain to help resupply the reservoirs here is looking bleak, and if things keep going the way they are, around 40% of the wider city of Gqeberha will be left with no running water at all.
The next several months do not promise a better future as the South African Weather Service forecasts below-normal precipitation.
For nearly a decade, the catchment areas for Nelson Mandela Bay’s main supply dams have received below average rainfall. Water levels have slowly dwindled to the point where the four dams are sitting at a combined level of less than 12% their normal capacity. According to city officials, less than 2% of the remaining water supply is actually useable, reported CNN.
Cape Town’s 2018 water crisis was also triggered by the previous, severe drought as well as management problems. The city’s residents would stand in lines for their individually rationed 50 liters of water each day.
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With no heavy rain expected to come, Nelson Mandela Bay’s officials are worried and are asking residents to reduce their water usage.
However, some parts of the city will not feel the full impact of a potential Day Zero but at various places have been leveled under “red zones” where their taps inevitably run dry.
Earlier this month, the government sent a delegation to Nelson Mandela Bay to take charge of the crisis and to implement emergency strategies to stretch the last of the city’s dwindling supply.
Leak detection and repairs were a focus and boreholes were drilled in some locations to extract ground water.
Some who had lost their water supplies at home are starting to get a trickle from their taps at night. But it’s not enough and authorities are looking for a better solution.
South Africa is naturally prone to drought, but the kind of multi-year droughts that cause such misery and disruption are becoming more frequent.
People in Kwanobuhle are feeling anxious about the future, wondering when the crisis will end.
At the communal tap there, 25-year-old Babalwa Manyube fills her own containers with water while her 1-year-old daughter waits in her car.
However, when we come to posh residential societies, people are wealthy enough to secure a backup supply of water.
Residents are being asked to reduce their consumption so that water can be diverted to areas most in need.