Helen Zille is sailing into action as Day Zero looms — and says the challenge is greater than the Second World War or the aftermath of 9/11 in New York City.
The Western Cape premier said on Monday she was stepping in to manage the impending disaster of Day Zero.
In her weekly column on Daily Maverick‚ Zille said the need to intervene became clear when Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille announced on Thursday that the city was now likely to run out of water.
“As the mayor’s press conference was under way‚ I called in the province’s head of legal services and said: ‘The crash the city has been trying to avoid now seems inevitable. We are bracing for impact. Sticking to the province’s constitutional mandate of support and oversight is not enough in these circumstances.’
“As we begin the countdown to Day Zero‚ the ground has shifted. While we must still do everything possible to prevent this ghastly eventuality [and we still can if everybody abides by the new water restrictions of 50 litres per person per day]‚ my focus has shifted to overseeing plans for the day the taps run dry — and the weeks that follow.
“The province has a mandate to manage provincial disasters. The question that dominates my waking hours now is: When Day Zero arrives‚ how do we make water accessible and prevent anarchy? And if there is any chance of still preventing it‚ what is it we can do?”
Zille said a week before dam levels hit 13.5%‚ the city council would announce the date of Day Zero for residential suburbs.
Once taps were turned off‚ residents will have to collect a daily allowance of 25 litres from 200 distribution points across the city.
“The city has not yet revealed details of how allocation will be managed at the collection points‚ but the current proposal is to do so on the basis of municipal accounts where the number of users would be registered‚ and the person collecting the water would have to provide proof of identification and the registered number of persons in the household‚” she said.
“A sophisticated system will be necessary to prevent water theft through ‘double dipping’. These logistics must still be resolved in the short time remaining.
“Consider this scenario: If every family sends one person to fetch their water allocation‚ about 5‚000 people will congregate at each distribution point every day. That creates a logistical nightmare of its own.
“In addition‚ it will be impossible for individuals to carry‚ by hand‚ 100 litres of water allocated for a family of four every day. So provision will have to be made for transport.
“The city has not yet given details of how the traffic will be managed. I am awaiting a full operations plan‚ including personnel requirements‚ security‚ infrastructure and budgets.
“As things stand‚ the challenge exceeds anything a major city has had to face anywhere in the world since the Second World War or 9/11.
“I personally doubt whether it is possible for a city the size of Cape Town to distribute sufficient water to its residents‚ using its own resources‚ once the underground water pipe network has been shut down.
“We have to look at supplementary methods‚ in partnership with the many private-sector corporations that deliver their products to the farthest reaches of this province‚ in every community‚ every day.”
Zille said South African Breweries had committed its Newlands brewery to fill 12-million quart bottles with water from its spring.
“Production will begin soon‚ and the bottles‚ labelled “water‚ not for sale”‚ will be delivered at outlets when Day Zero arrives. Consumers will pay R1 for each ‘quart’ [as South Africans still refer to the large beer bottle] which is about three-quarters of a litre‚ with a maximum limit per person. The R1 is the cost of the bottle’s deposit. The water itself is free. When the bottle is returned‚ empty‚ it will be replaced‚ full‚ at no charge.
“We are in discussion with the South African National Defence Force to store water supplies at military bases for safety.
“There is a lot more we must do in partnership with the extensive retail distribution networks to deliver water to places people routinely visit during the course of the day — like supermarkets and cafes.”
Zille said she would meet with retailers and courier companies to discuss details of an emergency water distribution network.
On Wednesday‚ the provincial will meet a high-level police delegation to discuss Day Zero. “In such a disaster‚ normal policing will be entirely inadequate‚” Zille said.
She called for the declaration of a national state of disaster before Day Zero to allow the State Security Agency‚ South African National Defence Force and the police “to formulate a shared plan with ourselves and the private sector to distribute water‚ defend storage facilities‚ deal with potential outbreaks of disease and keep the peace”.
Zille said the provincial economy was also in danger‚ as it relied on two water-intensive sectors‚ tourism and agriculture.
“Between them‚ they employ about 600‚000 people who … support almost 3-million people. One of our major priorities has been to keep them employed. The crisis associated with large-scale job losses and hunger would greatly exacerbate the catastrophe of dry taps.
“Fortunately‚ both these sectors have been very proactive‚ and have worked hard to cut water usage and keep people in jobs. Agriculture‚ under the leadership of Agri-Western Cape‚ immediately agreed to cut its allotted water take-off per farm by 40% — and now by 60%.
“The hotel sector has also been innovative‚ reducing their water usage by 50%. Hotels on the Cape Town Foreshore‚ which have basements below sea level‚ have to pump out seawater constantly and return it to the sea. Now they are busy installing their own desalination plants‚ at great cost‚ so that they can use basement water for consumption.”
While many hospitals and clinics now had boreholes‚ said Zille‚ schools were a major challenge.
“There are over 900 schools in the Cape Town metro‚ of which 423 have boreholes. Some of these produce potable water‚ and for the rest‚ plans are advanced to link borehole water to the schools’ sanitation reticulation system‚ which will then be cut off from municipal water.
“It is obviously essential to provide water to schools without boreholes. But this must still be finalised.”