Cape Town, South Africa, a city of four million people, will run out of water on April 12, in what local officials are calling “Day Zero.”
At that point — where the dams that supply the city’s water are expected to fall to an average capacity of 13.5% — authorities will turn off almost all of the faucets in town, and residents will have to line up at 200 distribution points to collect a daily ration of 25 liters (about six and-a-half gallons) per person.
Unless a miracle occurs, Cape Town will then become the first major industrialized city to run out of water.
The crisis is the result of several factors. One is the lack of rainfall over three unusually dry winters, an extreme drought that caught weather forecasters and local authorities by surprise. That has caused some to blame climate change — though experts say that the evidence is unclear. Such dry spells are rare, but not unknown, historically — though scientists warn that they could become more likely if the world becomes warmer and drier in the future.
Another factor is mismanagement. Water is technically controlled by the national government, which has been run since the first democratic elections in 1994 by the African National Congress (ANC), and is generally considered incompetent.
The ANC has focused on economic redistribution rather than growth, and has neglected investments in infrastructure in general, as graft and corruption have become rife throughout the public sector.
The provincial and municipal governments are controlled by the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA), which has sought to turn the Western Cape province and the City of Cape Town into flagships of good governance that will help the party challenge for power at the national level.
That may have made the national government less inclined to cooperate with local authorities. (The two parties have squabbled over who is to blame for the water crisis.)
In some ways, Cape Town and the Western Cape are victims of their own success. Precisely because they are better managed than the rest of the country, millions have migrated to the area from South Africa’s poorest regions, nearly doubling the population of Cape Town over the past twenty years and placing new strain on aging water systems.
Regardless of the cause, the spectacle of millions of people lining up daily for hours merely to survive, in what is considered Africa’s most beautiful and advanced city, will shock the world. Tourism will suffer, and so will South Africa’s overall economic growth.
And other drought-prone regions — such as California, which like Cape Town has not built new water storage capacity in decades — will see a horrific glimpse of their possible future.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He was named to Forward’s 50 “most influential” Jews in 2017. He is the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.